Freeways are the only fair way, say leaders in Collin County, where the last three highways have been fully tolled

Between existing toll roads and a $600 million commitment in a Nov. 6 bond election, Collin County residents are well-invested in their highways.

So invested, in fact, that their top elected official, County Judge Keith Self, says they’re tired of paying as they go. 

“We’ve got the highest concentration of toll roads anywhere in the state,” Self said. “We’ve got people spending a lot of money to get places. We’re not trying to get more toll lanes, we’re trying to figure out how to build more freeways like everyone else has.”In their transportation bond presentations this fall, county leaders showed maps comparing Collin’s limited-access highways to those of 1960s Dallas County, when it hit the 900,000-plus population threshold where Collin County sits today.

Dallas in the 1960s had interstates 20, 30 and 35 and Central Expressway as a new north-south freeway, and it was completing the Interstate 635 connector loop. 

By the 1970s, Central had reached most of Collin. But today, some 50 years later, it remains the county’s only free limited-access highway. The others — Dallas North Tollway, Bush Turnpike and Sam Rayburn Tollway — are full-on toll roads. And there are no limited-access roadways on the eastern half of the county, which is one of the nation’s fastest-growing.

The comparison is not just of Dallas and Collin maps, but of government’s shift in philosophy over the decades in its funding of roads and the increasing cost of transportation infrastructure.

“The state transportation budget has gone down from 33 percent of the state budget. It dipped as low as 7 percent,” Self said. “That’s a statement.”

However, as he nears the end of his 12-year run as county judge in January, Self is also critical of the process — saying that Dallas and Tarrant counties get the bulk of the attention, and most available dollars through the Regional Transportation Commission.

The RTC is a metropolitan planning organization, assigned by federal law to allocate federal and state transportation dollars in the 12-county region. Its members are locally elected officials with seats divided according to population. Collin’s five seats among 44 doesn’t seem much to leaders of a county with a population of 900,000.

“We have to be on the radar,” McKinney City Council member Chuck Branch said in criticizing the RTC at a recent work session to discuss U.S. Highway 380. “We don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to representation.”

The RTC operates in conjunction with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The council of governments’ executive board, of which Self is a member, has no authority to override RTC decisions. It answers to the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin.

“We have a regional legislature known as the RTC that has no oversight,” Self said. “The process is broken because the metropolitan planning organization carries too much authority. The state has got to claw back.”

That’s exactly what happened, he said, when the RTC recommended that the LBJ East project be built with new tolled lanes through Lake Highlands, Garland and Mesquite. Through three legislative sessions, then two trips to Austin for Texas Transportation Commission votes, those who didn’t want new toll roads pushed back. Today, the approved plan for LBJ East includes no new toll lanes.

Michael Morris, transportation director for the council of governments and staff liaison to the RTC, also cited LBJ East as a recent example of how state oversight worked to hone the process. 

“There is nothing the RTC can do that the Texas Transportation Commission does not endorse,” Morris said. On LBJ East, he said, the state commissioners stepped in to underline the sensitivities state leaders are showing regarding tolled roadways.

The process for LBJ East — a $1.8 billion project — was seen as a model for how Texas mega-projects would be funded in the future. And Collin County has freeway needs that are even bigger projects. County leaders are adamant that those projects, including Highway 380 and the Outer Loop, be built as freeways.

“Everybody is short of money,” Self said. “Government is, at its base, the allocation of scarce resources.”

Morris said he gets the message and, with the help of RTC members including Duncan Webb, Self’s colleague on the county commission, says significant dollars are set aside for Collin’s next builds.

RTC allocates money based on congestion. Its formula indicates that Collin County accounts for 20 percent of the area’s congestion. That translates to $900 million in federal and state dollars set aside in 2016 for the county’s future.

“The partnership we have with the state gives us 10 percent additional for right of way and 10 percent for engineering,” Morris said. “With the Collin County bond, they’re sitting on $1.5 to $2 billion. I personally know of no other place in the nation where there is $2 billion waiting for non-tolled projects than Collin County.”

Morris said that once cities reach a consensus on the route for Highway 380, it will be inserted into the Mobility 2045 plan and officially become a regional priority.

“It’s unfortunate that 50 years ago, 380 wasn’t built as a freeway,” he said. “It would have been hard back then for people to have forecast the growth, but the spacing indicates that somewhere right where 380 is today needs to be a freeway facility.”

By Ray Leszcynski, Communities | Source article

Local Planners Pushing Expansion of 1604 Without Toll Lanes

The Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization, the body created by the Legislature to guide transportation planning in the San Antonio area, is moving forward with a plan to construct the long-awaited expansion of Loop 1604 on San Antonio’s north side without resorting to toll lanes, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

MPO Chair Kevin Wolff told News Radio 1200 WOAI and KLRN-TV’s ‘On the Record’ that he is pushing for a vote of the MPO to change direction on the long awaited project.

“We will essentially be passing a resolution asking TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Commission to, instead of doing 1604 as a toll, give us the $500 million needed to complete that project, which is our most congested portion in the entire county, from Bandera Rd. to I-35,” Wolff said.

The entire cost of constructing two new lanes in each direction from Bandera Road to Interstate 35, a 24 mile project, is $800 million, but $300 million had already been secured from other sources.

Wolff didn’t say where the extra $500 million might come from, but since the original concept for the expansion was proposed, voters statewide have approved two propositions to free up money from various sources, including the gasoline tax and sales tax revenue from vehicle transactions, specifically to pay for non tolled highway improvements.

Wolff pointed out that the mood among state officials from Gov. Abbott on down is decidedly anti toll today, as opposed to the mood when the 1604 project was first conceived and pro toll Gov. Rick Perry was in office.

Abbott and Legislative leaders have both expressed a desire to complete major transportation projects without tolls.”

You are probably looking at over the next three to four months for this to get in front of the Texas Transportation Commission and hear what their decision is,” Wolff said.

But Wolff pointed out that all Commission members are appointed by Abbott, and are well aware of their feelings about toll roads.

He also said the political mood in Bexar County has long been anti-toll, due largely to the lobbying efforts of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom founder Terri Hall.

Wolff didn’t say whether this new method of funding would delay the start of the construction on the badly needed new lanes.

Link to story…

Do you appreciate the work of the volunteers at Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF)?

What is being toll-free worth to you? Consider your part in helping us continue this work for you!

If 150 people gave a one-time contribution of $20 today, we would reach our goal!

Is being toll-free worth $5/mo to you?

If 150 people gave a recurring monthly donation of $5/month for the rest of this year, we would go into the 2019 legislative session having exceeded our goal!

Every dollar allows us to be YOUR voice for fiscal sanity on toll roads. Donate today!

Calling all motorists abused by punitive toll fines & fees: Don’t miss toll collection hearing August 27!

Texans are tired of the scam being perpetrated upon them under the guise of toll fines and fees, and they’re demanding REFORM.

Last session, thanks to the must-pass TxDOT sunset bill, we were able to tack-on a magnificent toll collection reform bill (written by Ina Minjarez, D – San Antonio) that capped toll fines and fees at $48/year per driver. Sadly, it only applies to a limited number of TxDOT toll roads, not to the North Texas Tollway Authority, Harris County Tollway Authority or any of the 9 Regional Mobility Authorities.

So our work is NOT finished. Plus, there’s a catch!

The conference committee, led by Sen. Robert Nichols, gutted our reform to de-criminalize failing to pay a toll bill. The committee voted to put criminal penalties back into the bill so you can still be treated as a criminal, have your vehicle registration blocked and possibly even face jail time, for the inability to pay a toll bill. The House passed the amendment to de-criminalize by a vote of 136-3. So we need to work on the Senate to understand they should be representing the will of the people and take away criminal penalties for inability to pay a bill. Blocking someone’s vehicle registration arguably inhibits that person’s ability to pay the bill by jeopardizing their ability to get to work.

Make your voices heard

Please come to the interim legislative hearing that’s deliberating extending the toll collection reforms we passed last session to ALL toll entities. It’s also our chance to ask them to remove the criminal penalties for inability to pay a toll bill.

Senate Transportation Committee Hearing
on Toll Collection Practices
Monday, August 27
10:00 AM
Capitol Extension Rm E1.016
Texas State Capitol
Austin, Texas

Toll collection will be taken up the second half of the committee hearing. They are allowing public testimony on toll collection practices. We’ve heard from thousands of Texans about their unfair toll bills and the ruthless collection practices utilized by these government agencies. Now is your time to have your voices heard!

For those wishing to speak, sign up by filling out a Witness Registration Card (usually found on the table at the back of the committee room) and turn it in to the committee clerk sitting at the front dias.

Even if you do not wish to speak, we could use as many bodies of ordinary citizens in the room as possible since the paid lobbyists for the toll agencies will be there en force to keep the status quo!

Submit written comments, too!

If you are unable attend in person, please send your written comments with your full name and address (so they can verify you’re a real person) to Terri Hall, Founder/Director, Texans TURF (terri@texasturf.org ), and we will submit them to the committee. If you received an erroneous toll bill, or perhaps a toll bill where an entity tacked punitive, unreasonable fines and fees onto your toll bill or had your vehicle registration blocked or car impounded, please tell us your stories. We want to pass them onto the committee so they see the very real impact these punitive fines and fees have on REAL Texas taxpayers.

Digging Deeper

Go here and here for more background on what got passed last session and the reforms we still need next session.

Though the Reason Foundation pushes toll roads as a policy, this article is instructive as it speaks to the criminalization of ordinary behaviors, like driving, and how, increasingly citizens must get permission from the government to live everyday life. Toll billing practices are yet another way the big hand of government reaches into our lives and uses the threat of taking away your ability to drive to force you to pay up.

GO VOTE! Now’s our chance to elect anti-toll champions

Run-Off Early Voting: May 14-18
Election Day: May 22

Chip Roy

Dr. Stuart Spitzer

Thomas McNutt

Jill Wolfskill

Brent Lawson

Q: Many of you ask, how do we get our anti-toll reforms passed? How do we have our new law capping toll fines/fees at $48 a year to apply to ALL toll roads? I thought the Governor and Lt. Governor said ‘No more tolls,’ so why am I still seeing toll roads go up everywhere?
A: The short answer to these questions is we haven’t had the votes to get all of our reforms passed in a ‘clean’ bill without interference from the toll bureaucrats & special interests.

The way we get progress is to have enough lawmakers committed to protecting taxpayers from punitive toll taxes to get our reforms across the finish line.

That’s where elections come into play. We need more anti-toll lawmakers representing we the people in local, state, and federal government.
We’ve carefully vetted these candidates and they’ve committed to our legislative agenda in writing. We have a real chance at significantly changing the composition of the Texas legislature with so many anti-toll candidates in the run-offs.
Your vote counts even more in run-off elections when turnout is low. So be sure to go vote and bring friends and family with you to the polls!
************
RUN-OFF ELECTION
EARLY VOTING: May 14-18
ELECTION DAY: May 22
************
NOTE: All of the candidates listed are in GOP primary election run-offs. No Democrats have responded to our candidate survey. All candidates are ‘A’ rated by TURF.
TURF - A rated
Deanna Metzger
Matt Beebe
Gregory Parker

 

Trump coalition letter presses Abbott to keep ‘No Toll’ promise

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Coalition’s call for ‘No new toll taxes’ from Trump creates problem for Abbott in Dallas

Grassroots Coalition wants Governor to keep his promise, while they go on offense against Trump plan for tolls

(April 18, 2018 – Austin, Texas) The Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition’s latest project – strong opposition to parts of the Trump infrastructure plan, which calls for toll roads and corporate welfare public/private partnerships – is being led by Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Texans for Toll-free Highways, and Grassroots America – We the People PAC. The Coalition’s opposition was voiced in a letter to President Donald J. Trump and expresses widespread displeasure among Texas conservative grassroots leaders with Trump’s infrastructure plan.

“While some have called the Trump proposal DOA on Capitol Hill, we take nothing for granted and made the trip to D.C. to deliver it to the White House personally to ensure the President got the message from a BIG, red state with 38 electoral votes – we don’t want tolls!” declares Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texans for Toll-free Highways and Texas TURF.

JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director for Grassroots America – We the People PAC stated, “We are much more confident that Texas – under the leadership of Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – will make much sounder transportation decisions than the far-flung bureaucracy in Washington, which makes no actual progress in stopping wasteful practices or balancing the federal budget! This is why we support a federal block grant of our federal highway funds back to Texas with a bare minimum of federal strings.”

TURF hand-delivered copies to all U.S. House Members serving on the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, as well as all U.S. Senators serving on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (the committee that handles surface transportation legislation). In all, TURF visited more than 75 offices in D.C. last week, many of which were sit-down meetings with Congressional Members and the President’s senior staff.

The Coalition also delivered the letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, urging the Governor to stand strong against tolls as he promised to fix Texas roads without new toll taxes, (which he reiterated last fall as he directed the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to rework 15 toll projects to be completed without tolls). Last week, the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) proposed to defy the Governor, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and other state elected officials, such as Sen. Bob Hall and Sen. Don Huffines, who represent the area. The RTC plan advocates adding two toll managed lanes as part of the expansion of I-635 E from US 75 to I-30. Rumblings from the Governor’s office appear to suggest he’ll go along.

Abbott’s Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Bruce Bugg made his intentions crystal clear in a letter to the RTC in March that he expected a non-toll solution or no deal. Angered by the apparent about-face, grassroots leaders have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to budge.

“Managed lanes are toll lanes. Tolls are taxes. This project is not toll viable per TxDOT’s own study and requires taxpayer subsidies. Everyone will pay for it, but only the few who can pay tolls (like the $1/mile on MoPac in Austin), will ever be able to afford to drive on them,” Terri Hall of TURF explains.

In 2015, the legislature passed House Bill 20, requiring TxDOT to put explicit policies in place to ensure the highest priority projects got funded first. Yet, that’s not what happened. The majority of the new funds were allocated to low priority projects, by design, so that TxDOT could claim there’s not enough money to fix the big urban projects. This incentivizes local governments to tap a toll revenue stream for the most congested roads, which creates unaccountable slush funds outside the reach of taxpayers.

Grassroots America’s Fleming says, “This is just another problem of TxDOT’s own making. The voters gave them $5 billion more per year in new funding (with passage of Prop 1 & 7), and they squandered it on low priority projects so they could cry poverty in urban areas and slap tolls on commuters already choking under the burden of toll taxes. Special corporate interests, promoted by anti-taxpayer local government shills, benefit most from these unfettered tolling and multi-leveraging schemes.”

Fleming added, “Working families across Texas have made it abundantly clear that they do not want more toll roads. In fact, 90% of Republican Primary voters approved of a March 6 ballot resolution that stated, ‘No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval.’ This means the Republican base has Gov. Abbott’s back on his strong opposition to more toll roads and more debt. His base wants him to keep his campaign promises.”

The RTC’s actions indicate if local governments lobby the Governor and his Transportation Commission for toll ‘managed’ lanes, that they’ll consider giving toll projects a green light despite campaign promises.

“It’ll be used as a model by every other local board, and we’ll end up with tolls everywhere after the Governor promised no more,” Terri Hall predicts.

The Coalition applauds Abbott’s challenge to local governments on an array of anti-liberty and anti-taxpayer local ordinances, and they expect him to continue to keep his promises for the highway system directly under the jurisdiction of the State of Texas.

###

Chance at LBJ E fix without tolls scuttled by Transportation Commission delay

Unexpected delay by Commission puts non-toll fix to LBJ E in Dallas on hold
By JoAnn Fleming and Terri Hall

A showdown was expected at today’s Texas Transportation Commission meeting over Interstate-635 E as elected officials seeking to make good on their campaign promises to end tolls were butting heads with transportation interests seeking to lobby for more tolls. Thanks to the tireless work of Senator Bob Hall who had brought the various factions together, all the players from across the spectrum had agreed to advance a non-toll expansion of Interstate-635 E (from US-75 to Interstate 30) without tolls, sidelining tolled express lanes in accordance with the policy of Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who recently pulled the plug on future toll roads in response to grassroots pressure. The non-toll plan is what appeared on today’s agenda.

However, to everyone’s surprise, Chairman Bruce Bugg announced that he would delay action on the project. He referred to a $1 billion funding gap between the old toll plan and the newly brokered non-toll version, but Transportation Director of the Regional Transportation Council Michael Morris very articulately begged to differ.

Morris laid out several scenarios of how the non-toll freeway expansion was fully funded and how it could move forward today without further delay. Even the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Deputy Executive Director Marc Williams testified the non-toll project was, in fact, ‘fiscally constrained,’ which means fully funded.

Morris believes there are at least five areas where the project costs should be reduced under the new plan, and both he and Hall strongly encouraged the commission to take action in today’s meeting and not delay this project another day.

This and 14 other toll projects were put on hold after Abbott and Patrick issued strong statements in November directing the highway commission to pull toll roads from the state’s plan and go back to the drawing board to get them done non-toll with existing taxes.

Hall, Morris, and the area’s Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff were all blind-sided by the commission’s delay. Approval of the deal at today’s meeting would have been a win-win for all parties, especially Texas commuters and taxpayers. However, now it’s unclear as to how quickly the commission will act, whether it will be at its next meeting in February or indefinitely. Morris said any delay costs the taxpayers $5 million a month.

Hall stands with Abbott who promised to fix Texas roads without more taxes, fees, debt, or tolls.

“For an executive who can afford to take the toll lanes, he gets to race home and make himself a martini, but for the poor working guy, he has to decide whether to get home faster or whether he can buy the baby some milk,” Hall articulated.

“Tolls are a cruel form of taxation without representation. They’re punitive,” Hall noted.

He’s pointed out recently that toll taxes create a long-term penalty for the working class. At today’s average cost of $5.00 each direction, it will cost the family of a worker – over the course of their lifetimes – in excess of $135,000 for the ‘privilege’ of using the toll lane!.

“That’s like taking a home or a couple of college educations away from that family, while they face a daily fee that could well be the equivalent of a $25.00 per-gallon gasoline tax. This is an outrageously unacceptable tax burden,” Hall argues.

Tolls were once pushed as necessary to get projects funded, but with the advent of Prop 1 and Prop 7 as sources of new non-toll funding, officials have a way to get projects moving without the additional toll tax. Now the argument has become, tolls are necessary as a way to ‘manage’ traffic. It’s an attempt by government bureaucracies to ‘manage’ congestion through variable pricing, also known as congestion tolling. The more cars that use the managed lanes, the higher the toll in order to knock cars out of the lanes to maintain a certain speed in the toll lane. Meanwhile, the adjacent ‘free’ lanes remain congested for the foreseeable future.

Managed lanes signal the end of freeway expansion. When frustrated commuters demand more capacity, the bureaucrats’ answer will be carpool, get on a bus, pay the toll, or stay stuck in traffic. Some local politicians have bought into the thinking that the only way to address congestion is through tolls, which the majority of Texas voters reject (take a look at the Texas GOP platform).

When tolls under a managed lane scenario are already exceeding $1/mile on MoPac in Austin and over $4/mile to get into Washington D.C. today on I-66, this unsustainable, untenable situation must come to an end. Thanks to taxpayer heroes like Senator Bob Hall, congestion weary commuters on I-635 E have help on the way and the conservative grassroots has his back.

ATFI issues statement following leak of draft Trump White House Infrastructure plan

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Alliance for Toll-free Interstates

Statement: Trump Tolls Would Help Wall Street, Hurt Main Street

(Richmond, VA, January 22, 2018) Following the leak of the draft Trump White House infrastructure plan, the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates issued the following statement, which can be attributed to spokesperson Stephanie Kane:

“The leaked Trump infrastructure plan is a complete reversal of President Trump’s commitment to putting America First. Although then-candidate Trump campaigned against lining the pockets of Wall Street and promised to be the voice for the working class, this plan does the opposite. President Trump is choosing Wall Street over Main Street. It would take money from hardworking Americans and give huge profits to toll road investors – many of which are foreign companies.

“The leaked document allows ‘states flexibility to toll on interstates’ and reconciles ‘the grandfathered restrictions on use of highway toll revenues with current law.’ That translates to a complete reversal of the current federal ban on tolling existing interstates. Tolls are simply a new tax. They are wildly inefficient, sacrificing money that could go toward construction instead going to corporate profits and administrative costs. In addition to the diversion onto secondary roads which causes congestion and public safety issues, tolls will do unimaginable harm to businesses, as shipping and manufacturing prices skyrocket to account for these new costs.

“The current Trump plan could result in a patchwork of tolls that span coast to coast. This plan is not innovative or good policy – it is simply a nationwide plan for #TrumpTolls. There is a real opportunity for a long-term solution to our transportation infrastructure needs, but it shouldn’t include tolling our interstates.”

To learn more about ATFI and join the Alliance, please visit TollFreeInterstates.com. Connect with the Alliance on Twitter at @No2Tolls and Facebook at facebook.com/TollFreeInterstates

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Reforms make it to Governor’s desk

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Terri Hall, Director
Texas TURF, & Texans for Toll-free Highways
(210) 275-0640

 

Anti-toll reforms finally pass Texas legislature

Reforms changed in conference, but still cripple future toll roads

(Austin, TX – Sunday, May 28, 2017) As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, a must-pass bill to continue the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), SB 312, cleared its final hurdle yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. But rather than concur with the strong House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.

This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.

The House suspended the rules and rushed a vote to concur with the conference committee’s changes and the Senate followed before it adjourned Saturday evening as well – pushing passage of a 100-page bill before anyone could read what was in it.

The rules governing conference committees are very limited. Conferees cannot add anything into a bill that isn’t already in either version the House or Senate passed. They essentially decide what amendments stay in or get removed. However, loopholes and exceptions were added to SB 312, and the House and Senate authors did not fully notice their colleagues of the loopholes and completely new language they added.

For example, at the very end of this lengthy bill in Section 78 pertaining to the prohibition on an HOV lane being converted into a toll lane, it grants a new exception for all projects that are contained in the state’s air quality implementation plan prior to September 1, 2017. This means virtually every managed toll lane project on the books in Houston and Dallas-Ft. Worth — the Texas cities that are in non-attainment for federal air quality standards — can still convert an existing HOV lane into a toll lane, despite both chambers voting to prohibit it.

This exception was not deemed a significant problem in committee nor did it prevent passage by the full Senate when Sen. Bob Hall’s SB 1143 (which is the same language of the amendment tacked onto SB 312 in the House) passed, 29-2. Yet new language was suddenly required at the eleventh hour and was added into the bill without adequately notifying lawmakers of the change that impacts several projects, including one important to Hall’s constituents, where an HOV lane on I-635 East is slated to be converted to a toll lane.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and Rep. Joe Pickett‘s amendment, which was a bill that had already passed the Senate, SB 812, also had completely new language inserted. Their amendment requires toll project entities to repay any funds they receives from the state. The public resents having their ‘free’ road funds going into toll roads then having to pay again to use them. The state currently grants most toll entities road taxes to the tune of $10 billion and has rarely required any of those funds to be repaid to the state. In fact, the local toll agencies get to keep most, if not all, of the toll revenues locally.

Both the House and Senate voted to stop unrestricted grants of highway funds to toll projects and require funds to be repaid, yet a handful of conferees overruled them to allow toll projects as far back as January 1, 2014, to move forward without requiring repayment of those funds if the environmental review on those projects had commenced by that date.

“The whole purpose of this amendment is to require funds to be repaid on any project that isn’t already operating as a toll road. To retroactively continue this abuse not only betrays the legislative actions taken by the majority of the House and Senate, it also betrays the taxpayers forcing the double taxation to continue,” concluded Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF and Texans for Toll-free highways.

For whom the bill tolls
An amendment by Rep. Ina Minjarez sought to remove criminal penalties for toll violations and drastically reduce the administrative fees and fines that could be levied against motorists. It passed by an overwhelming majority in the House by a vote of 136-3. Yet, this same handful of conferees put criminal penalties back into the bill. The House debated the criminal penalties and overwhelmingly decided to remove them. They felt strongly that no Texan should be made a criminal or have their ability to drive taken away for failure to pay a fine/fee. It’s a throw back to debtors prisons.

The new language actually captures more people as ‘violators’ by making them a criminal if they simply haven’t paid a single toll after supposedly receiving two bills. The toll could be for one trip for $.20 or $2.00 and they’ll now be punished under what used to be a habitual toll violator with 100 or more unpaid toll transactions.

Many Texans complain they never receive the first bill from the toll entity and then later get a late payment notice after being put into collections, erroneously, and after penalties are already imposed. This happened to Rep. Tom Oliverson who described his outrage at the experience during the House debate on SB 312 leading up to the overwhelming adoption of the Minjarez amendment to de-criminalize.

“Though special interests and their lobbyists attempted to undo the intent of what they see as hostile legislation to their existence and add and remove language outside the public purview, anti-toll groups delivered a major blow to future toll roads in Texas with passage of SB 312,” Hall declared.

Perhaps the biggest victory of all was killing the bill to re-authorize public private partnership toll roads, HB 2861. Nineteen Texas highways would have been handed over in government-sanctioned monopolies giving private, foreign corporations the exclusive right to extract the highest possible toll in 50-year sweetheart deals. That era is now over. There’s also plenty to celebrate in SB 312.

Anti-toll reforms in SB 312:

1) Texans will now be protected from having their free lanes converted to toll lanes or having their free lanes downgraded to frontage roads.
2) Despite the exceptions added, HOV lanes cannot be converted into toll lanes.
3) Toll administrative fees will be capped at $48/year, and any criminal fines are capped at $250/year (versus the current system where thousands can be tacked on).
4) Tolls will be removed from Camino Columbia toll road in Laredo and the Cesar Chavez toll project in El Paso (after a vote by local El Paso officials who have indicated they support removing the tolls). This sets an important precedent to get tolls removed from other projects.
5) Any state funds for toll projects that had environmental review commence by January 1, 2014, must be repaid. The grant/subsidy, double tax gravy train is now over.

Taxpayers pushed for over a decade to get these reforms in place and finally got them in SB 312. While there’s still much work to be done to completely reform toll policy in Texas, the majority of the heavy lifting began with passage of SB 312 last night.

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HB 2861 Record Vote

Those who voted to hand 19 TX roads to private, foreign toll operators are:
Yeas 51 — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are´valo; Blanco; Burkett; Button; Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Elkins; Farrar; Flynn; Geren; Giddings; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Howard; Huberty; Israel; Johnson, E.; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Moody; Morrison; Murphy; Neave; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Phillips; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Rose; Sheffield; Shine; Smithee; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Villalba; Walle; Workman.

 

Taxpayer champions who voted against are:
Nays 82 — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Cain; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Cosper; Craddick; Cyrier; Dale; Darby; Dean; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Faircloth; Fallon; Frank; Frullo; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neva´rez; Oliverson; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Pickett; Price; Raney; Reynolds; Rinaldi; Roberts; Romero; Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shaheen; Simmons; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thierry; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; White; Wilson; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.

Absent, Excused — Anchia; Paddie; Wu.
Absent, Excused, Committee Meeting — Ashby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Sanford.
Absent Unexcused — Bernal; Cook; Gervin-Hawkins; Guillen; Hinojosa; Johnson, J.; Kuempel; Minjarez; Vo.

Source: House Journal Recorded Vote

See press release: VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott’s vision for toll-free future

VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill…

IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Terri Hall, (210) 275-0640

 

Defeat of private toll road bill affirms Abbott’s pledge to voters 
Promise to fix roads without new tolls or debt gets bipartisan support

(Austin, TX – Friday, May 5, 2017) Texas taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief tonight as a bipartisan effort to defeat expansion of private toll roads in Texas went down in flames by a vote of 79-51 in the Texas House. Taxpayer champions Rep. Jeff Leach (R – Plano), Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R – Bedford), and Rep. Joe Pickett (D – El Paso) led the floor fight, noting 90% of Democrats and 95% of Republicans oppose new toll roads in Texas, and both party platforms oppose privatized toll roads in particular. Governor Greg Abbott promised to fix Texas roads without new tolls or debt, and the Texas House delivered on that promise today by killing Rep. Larry Phillips HB 2861.

Pickett and Stickland made impassioned speeches opposing the bill. Leach emphasized both party platforms oppose this type of toll project and that the voters just gave the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) $5 billion a year in new funding by passing Proposition 1 and Proposition 7.

He asked the bill’s author, “Why do we need this bill now?”

Then Leach directly asked Pickett whether or not the House needed to pass HB 2861 to get the projects done, and he answered with a firm, ‘No.’

Stickland bluntly argued the reason why he’s now serving in the House is because his predecessor Todd Smith voted to turn 183 and 121 into toll roads that devastated his community. He intimated that voters took out their vengeance by electing a new representative.

“My constituents hate it,” asserted Stickland, referring to the privatized toll roads that run through Ft. Worth that are locked into 50 year contracts operated by Spain-based Cintra.

Pickett sounded the alarm about the need to draw a line in the sand, “If we don’t stop it now, it’s never going to stop.”

He warned that passage of HB 2861 would dig the debt-toll road sinkhole even deeper and told his colleagues that Prop 1 and Prop 7 expire, and they’re going to have to address the debt problem very soon. He also shared frustration that neither he nor the public has any idea where all this toll revenue is going. It lacks transparency and gets eaten up by the toll road bureaucracies, or in this case, the private entities the public cannot hold accountable.

“This is so people can make money,” contended Pickett.

Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Reform (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways hailed the defeat of HB 2861, “A bipartisan coalition swept the Rick Perry-era of toll roads aside, and today we officially started the Abbott era that firmly opposes new toll roads, especially privatized toll roads that give an exclusive right to a single company to extract the highest possible toll from the traveling public for a half century at a time.”

JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America – We the People agrees, “A broad coalition of groups across Texas made it clear that they would not tolerate the expansion of private toll roads and the corporate welfare they represent to continue to spread like a cancer across the Lone Star State. We applaud the work of our champions in the House and thank the Governor for his leadership in firmly setting a new course away from debt and toll roads and moving forward with a new fiscally responsible, sustainable future.”

Roads in HB 2861:
– I-35 in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio
– I-45 in Houston
– Hwy 290 (Hempstead Tollway) Houston
– I-30 in Ft. Worth
– I-635 E in Dallas
– Loop 1604 in San Antonio
– 290 W in Austin (from MoPac to Oak Hill)
– South MoPac in Austin
– South Padre Island Second Access Causeway
– International Bridge Corridor Project
– Hidalgo County Loop project
– FM 1925 in Cameron & Hidalgo Counties
– Hwy 83 Hidalgo County
– Hwy 68 in Hidalgo County
– Outer Pkwy in Cameron County
– Loop 49 in Tyler (two projects)

Hall concludes, “Special interests continue to push these ‘innovative’ financing schemes despite the public opposition because private toll contracts and design-build procurements drive up the cost to build, putting more money into the pockets of road builders at great expense to Texas taxpayers. Our elected representatives just said, ‘No more.’ You’re not going to gouge our citizens just to get to work.”

See article: HB 2861 Record Vote

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