Jeff Branscome writes about Spotsylvania County.
Battle of the Minds On Toll Authority: Gary Jackson vs Hap Connors
The toll authority for Spotsylvania County and Fredericksburg got its first step of approval Tuesday night in Spotsylvania. But two members, Gary Jackson and T.C. Waddy, voted against creating the authority.
There really is no harm in creating the authority right now, but Mr. Jackson also points out that he doesn’t think there is any harm if the Board decided not to create it right now.
Jackson demanded additional details about the toll road proposal, or alignment 5 of the Outer Connector. He said that officials with the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization haven’t been consistent with the estimated traffic the road will carry. He said a letter from FAMPO to the feds in January cited 20,000 to 30,000 vehicle trips a day on the proposed toll road. On Tuesday night, the number ballooned to 35,000 vehicle trips a day.
Jackson didn’t understand where FAMPO got that estimation from, and after their presentation Tuesday night, neither did the public.
Since Tuesday, Mr. Jackson and Supervisor Hap Connors have been battling it out over e-mail.
At about 6 a.m. Wednesday, Jackson sent an e-mail to county staff and some supervisors saying that he intends to review all materials associated with the toll road and interchange study “that you and FAMPO have this far refused to provide.”
Jackson said this road has been studied for years and he isn’t sure there’s much work product. He wanted supervisors to pause on the toll road authority until FAMPO returns with documents that show a toll road to bypass State Route 3 is financially feasible.
How much will the toll be? Tuesday night, Lloyd Robinson of FAMPO used a scenario of charging $1 for the toll. With the 35,000 vehicle trips a day, that’s $35,000 a day and enough to borrow half of the cost of the almost $300 million project.
But that’s not even really an estimate. It was just a scenario used as an example.
Mr. Connors said no one has been refused the work product for the toll road and interchange.
“We asked for and received a briefing last night, and now after requesting it at the hearing, Lloyd Robinson and Doug [Barnes] agreed to provide you and other Board members any and all material associated with the project,” Connors said.
Mr. Jackson’s beef is why wasn’t this material provided during the public hearing? When I spoke with him yesterday he said it is an open government issue for him: If there’s a public hearing on creating an authority that can charge a toll to use a road, then all of the details about this project, including price, toll charges and alignments, should be included.
Mr. Connors sent out another e-mail this morning that said creating the Authority and the toll road are two separate issues.
“Our approval the other night does not bind us to the parkway or anything else for that matter,” he wrote. “However, as I also said, it does send a message to the feds and to state officials that we hear them clearly when they tell us to devise creative solutions that focus on regionalism, alternative funding mechanisms and public-private partnerships – if we want our projects to move up the chain. That is what we are doing, and we don’t have to agree with all of that or the state of transportation affairs, but it is what it is, and it is in our best interest to move forward.”
Connors no longer is on the FAMPO Board. Benjamin Pitts and Jerry Logan now serve the county on that panel.
Mr. Jackson replied that he is not buying Connors’ “spin on this kerfuffle.” (Hat tip to Jackson for using the word kerfuffle)
“I believe I made it clear at the previous public hearing that I wanted to see the data in support of this 3 year, publicly funded toll road/interchange study. Instead, the board and public is presented with a warmed over “executive summary” and a scolding by Mr. Robinson when I questioned the absence of any hard data.”
Mr. Jackson and Mr. Robinson weren’t seeing eye to eye Tuesday night, and at times the conversation turned defensive.
“Look, the toll road authority ordinance passed. Game over. The usual players win again. Now, can I please read the report so I can try to assess the consequences. That’s all,” Jackson wrote in his e-mail.