Scheel: No toll roads in Comal County

by Crystal Gottfried, Staff Writer

For anyone out there who thinks Comal County will have toll roads, the answer is a resounding no.

According to Comal County Judge Danny Scheel, he and other county officials negotiated a deal with the state and the regional Texas Department of Transportation for new highways through the county with "pass through" financing by which the county helps to finance new road construction by issuing bonds to the state that they will repay later.

This arrangement was created to avoid any toll roads coming through Comal County on lanes which have already been paid for through the gasoline tax and state money. Commissioners feel that toll roads would be, in a sense, double taxation.

Scheel said that he received over forty e-mail messages last Thursday morning from individuals in the north and west parts of the county who are protesting toll roads in Comal County.

"We have been opposed to toll roads, and there will be no toll roads in Comal County," said Scheel. "We have repeated that position again and again. People say they are concerned about our supposed support for toll roads. I just don't know how else to get across to people that there will be no toll roads in Comal County and we don't support them - period."

Scheel said that he has a letter that would prove that statement, and is happy to show anyone.

The unusual pass-through financing agreement that the county negotiated with TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission for U.S. 281 and Texas 46, is a "real sweetheart deal for our county."

Instead of the county paying for 10 percent of the cost of right-of-way and relocation of utilities, the new agreement loans TxDOT $16 million each for two road projects that would be repaid by TxDOT in four to five years. The only expense in these projects would be the interest on the $16 million during the repayment period, and that would be divided proportionately between New Braunfels, Comal County and Bulverde.

According to Scheel, TxDOT may begin acquiring the right-of-way for the project this year and road construction could begin in 2008.

With a projected county population of 144,000 residents by the year 2012, Scheel believes that TxDOT's estimated project starts in 10 to 15 years would be too long a wait.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jan Kennady protested against the toll road issue, publicly and loudly, at last year's Texas Legislative Conference. She even confronted Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson telling him that Comal County commissioners and their constituents would never sign on for transportation improvements that involve toll roads.

"We've heard from many people who are against toll roads and say how bad toll roads are," she said. "Truthfully, we have said over and over, and on many occasions, that we, the commissioners, are opposed to toll roads. We've taken a stand that we do not want toll roads; there will not be any toll roads in our county; and U.S. 281 through Comal County will not be a toll road."

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