Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tolling like a tea party

Oh, I can't believe I haven't pointed this out yet: The San Antonio Toll Party.

To get you caught up, the Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT, is considering putting in some toll roads here in San Antonio. There are currently none in this city, though Houston and Dallas have some.

There are some people who are adamantly opposed to toll roads in the Alamo City, and Terri Hall is one of them. She is an open and vocal critic of TxDOT and the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, or RMA (the group tasked with handling local toll projects). Ms. Hall denounces anything having to do with toll roads, and she has started the San Antonio Toll Party as "a non-partisan, grassroots movement to STOP the DOUBLE tax tolling of our existing FREEways and rights of way" [capitals in original].

Fine and good. Ms. Hall is entitled to her opinion on toll roads (I am neither pro- or anti- on the issue), and she has the right to voice that opinion. But the way she presents those arguments -- and the tactics she uses -- can be a bit off-putting.

For one, the tolling of a road seems morally neutral to me, yet Ms. Hall refers to people who are against tolls as "good guys" and people who are not sufficiently anti-toll as "bad guys". I fail to see how you can persuade anyone to see your point of view if you start them off in the bad guy camp.

For another, the Toll Party has teamed up with environmental groups to file a lawsuit to stop construction of toll roads on U.S. Highway 281 north of Loop 1604. This is odd, since Ms. Hall seems to want road improvements on U.S. 281, just of the non-tolled kind. And, an environmental lawsuit would probably halt all construction for a long time, whether of tolled roads or "free" roads. That's not going to win very many people over to Ms. Hall's side, especially if they like toll roads or don't care as long as some kind of upgrades come along.

The Toll Party also has ready-made fliers that refer to the whole planning process (complete with public involvement) as "madness" and "highway robbery". The higher-ups at TxDOT and the RMA may not be elected officials (the main sticking point with the Toll Party, it seems), but calling them insane criminals is not the best way to present your case.

In short, Ms. Hall and the San Antonio Toll Party seem to be low on reason and acumen and high on raw passion and invective. The debate is heated (check this link to Pat Driscoll's blog to see some of the arguments on both sides), but Ms. Hall's approach is blowtorch hot. I don't see her winning over many undecided citizens with that approach, but I don't think that's her ultimate goal. She just wants zero toll roads, no matter what anyone else may think.

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