Legislature fails to deliver for toll-weary drivers

Lawmakers leave without giving drivers toll tax relief

Sometimes a win isn’t gauged by what you pass, but by what you stopped. The results of the 86th legislative session are definitely the later. In short, the taxpayers got very little as far as toll tax relief. With 28 different toll systems and 55 toll projects in place today, without passing toll cessation Texas drivers will never see an end to paying toll taxes nor an end to toll agencies expanding their existing systems out further and further — forever. However, the grassroots opposition to five bad toll road bills that would have handed Texas’ public highways to private, foreign entities in 50-year sweetheart deals along with other giveaways to private toll companies, managed to kill all of them — the worst being HB 1951 by Matt Krause, a member of the Freedom Caucus.The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) alone (not to mention the other 12 local toll agencies across the state) has put more than two million Texas drivers into collections for unpaid tolls. Just TxDOT has imposed over $1 billion in fines and fees in addition to the actual tolls owed. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (Austin area) testified before the Senate Transportation Committee last August that of the $100 million its collected in tolls, $85 million was fines and fees. Toll fines and fees are out of control and making Texas drivers virtually an unlimited ATM machine to feed relentless unelected toll bureaucracies — in short, tolling has become a license to steal.Many toll billing problems are unintentional on the part of the driver with malfunctioning toll tags, expired payment cards, and changes in address creating a massive roadblock for millions of Texas drivers. Yet, the grassroots toll collection reform bills (SB 382 and its House companion HB 4580) never got a hearing in either chamber’s Transportation Committee, despite promises to expand the toll collection reform that passed last session that capped administrative fees at $48/year and other penalties at $250/year. Reforms from the 85th session only applied to TxDOT and a handful of other projects, leaving millions of Texas drivers still facing unpayable fines and fees and being deemed criminals for non-payment, resulting in a block on vehicle registration or having one’s car impounded.

When the legislature finally repealed the Driver Responsibility Program (HB 2048 by Zerwas that traps drivers with unplayable surcharges that prevent them from driving legally) and banned red light camera tickets, HB 1631 (Stickland), this session, which includes prohibiting cities from blocking vehicle registration over an unpaid red light camera ticket, it defies logic that they failed to address this problem that criminalizes millions of Texas drivers over unpaid toll bills. SB 198 (Schwertner) and SB 1311 (Bettencourt) allow drivers to be billed electronically. Schwertner’s bill requires toll entities to check for an electronic toll tag account before sending a paper bill by mail (eliminating the longstanding double billing schemes), to notify drivers of a malfunctioning toll tag if problems occur more than 10 times in a 30 day period, and requiring toll entities to share information to prevent double billing for the same transaction, but both bills barely make a dent in the massive toll collection scam. Lawmakers also decided to make parents criminals if they don’t face their two-years olds in their car seat the right direction by passing HB 448 (Turner).

Tolls in place forever

The bill known as ‘toll cessation’ (SB 374 by Hall and HB 436 by Shaheen) — to force tolls to come off the road when the debt is paid — was given a token hearing in the House, but was left to die in a tolling subcommittee. Senate Transportation Committee Chair Robert Nichols once again blocked the bill from even getting a hearing this session. Keeping tolls in place after the debt is paid violates the Texas Constitution Article 1, Sec. 26 that prohibits perpetuities, a fact lawmakers have been made aware of since 2011, but no action has been taken to force toll agencies to comply. Vast numbers of lobbyists have been hired by 13 different toll agencies across Texas to ensure this unconstitutional practice continues. Both SB 29 (Hall) and HB 281 (Middleton) to ban the practice of taxpayer-funded lobbying failed to pass — thanks to taxpayer-funded lobbyists crawling the capitol to kill any restrictions on their ability to lobby against taxpayers.

Foreign-owned toll road frenzy

But what did the leadership choose to advance instead? A massive bill to re-authorize foreign-owned toll roads forever with no expiration, HB 1951 (Krause), along with several other bills that were giveaways to the private toll industry. Krause flip flopped his position opposing foreign-owned toll roads (voting to kill it) last session, only to author a bill authorizing such toll contracts into perpetuity this session. Doing so directly contradicted Governor Greg Abbott’s campaign pledge of ‘No more tolls.’

New House Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Terry Canales flip flopped on his position against toll roads. He promised voters in writing that he was opposed to all forms of tolling when he was seeking the endorsement of anti-toll groups when he was first elected in 2012.

Canales promised, “I do not support any form of tolling. First and foremost, I do not like the concept nor practice of building toll roads. Furthermore, I am adamantly opposed to investing in toll roads that cannot pull their own weight so to speak. What good does it do us as taxpayers to have to subsidize and/or pay to build a toll road then pay to use it? This appears to me as a public fraud, and a gross injustice.

“As a legislator I would strongly oppose toll roads in general. I think it is highly unfair to the taxpayers to be burdened by toll roads which have already been built and paid for by their tax dollars.

“Use existing funds to finance our roads (including ending diversions of road taxes to non-road uses). TxDOT should regularly be audited from top to bottom. I believe many of the funding problems we have with respect to our infrastructure are directly related to the mismanagement of funds, and poor accounting practices. Without fiscal transparency and accountability, we will continue to face budget problems, which in turn lead to the demise of our infrastructure.”

Yet, Canales not only heard and voted five bad foreign-owned toll road bills out of his committee (which require massive public subsidies and taxpayers guarantee the private operator’s profits that he said he was opposed to), he authored two of them. Thankfully, the grassroots opposition organized behind Texans for Toll-Free Highways and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (Texas TURF) killed all five bills.

When Ft. Worth drivers have recently faced paying $15 to drive just 5 miles on Spain-based Cintra’s toll system, the North Tarrant Express, it’s going to anger a whole lot of Texans that these problems continue unabated. These toll entities, whether public or private, have been given a license to steal from Texas drivers, well beyond the actual cost of building the road. Drivers need tax relief, too, and they need to hold their legislators accountable for their inaction.

Property rights & Transparency

There is some good news to report with regards to transparency and property rights. SB 943 (Watson) passed, cleaning up several loopholes the Texas Supreme Court warned lawmakers existed that allowed private companies that do business with the state to keep significant aspects of their contracts secret from the public.

SB 1648 (Bettencourt) would make it a criminal offense for elected officials to violate quorum. Something known as a ‘walking quorum’ is a practice that’s become rampant, particularly with the Austin City Council, where public officials discuss upcoming agenda items behind closed doors amongst themselves outside of a formal posted public meeting, a deliberate violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act. Putting criminal penalties on officials who violate the law will put teeth into the act and make any violation more enforceable.

HB 803 (Patterson) would require toll agencies to produce better financial reports so that elected officials as well as the public can more easily discern where the toll revenues are going — is the toll going directly to retire bond debt, expanding or constructing new toll projects, or other ‘mobility’ initiatives? The bill will expose a longstanding cancer known as ‘system financing,’ which is the practice of obligating surplus revenue from one project to build or expand other toll projects, co-mingling funds together to ensure no toll project is ever paid off. Following the money trail is the first step to getting toll cessation finally passed.

In the final days of the session, pipeline companies were successful in hijacking a strong property rights bill, SB 421 (Kolkhorst) using the iron fist of Rep. Tom Craddick, who took the bill away from its House sponsor, gutted it, then placed it on the local calendar so it couldn’t be amended. This move effectively killed it for the session despite Senator Lois Kolkhorst’s attempts to restore the previously agreed to language by both property rights groups and pipeline companies in a conference committee. SB 421 would have given landowners basic protections from eminent domain abuse, like defined minimum easement terms, a public hearing requirement, and protection from low-ball offers.

While SB 572 (Kolkhorst) is good news for micro home foods businesses, granting small cottage food vendors (home-based food businesses) more freedom to sell their products without onerous governmental red tape, HB 2755 (Price) would impose unlimited permit fees on food trucks by local governments.

In all, there’s very little to write home about for the 86th legislative session when it comes to relieving the toll tax burden, toll collection abuses, and protecting property rights. Now it’s time to hold the state’s leadership, their committee chairs, and every member of the legislature who failed to act accountable. Election season is just around the corner. Ask yourself, who’s interest did your Texas legislators and leaders represent? Yours, the lowly taxpayer, or the special interests — or even worse, their own self-interest. Time to send the majority of them packing.

Toll price of express lane in Washington D.C. spikes to $46 for Tuesday morning commute

Link to article here.

How much does it cost to get to D.C. from I-66?

On Tuesday, a commuter posted a photo on Twitter showing the toll road nearly reaching $50!

The amount has hit the wallets hard for solo drivers traveling the nine-mile stretch between Interstate 495 and Route 29 in Rosslyn. Those who carpool are able to use the Express Lanes for free. Single drivers have to pay the toll Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. in the eastbound direction, and from 3 to 7 p.m. in the westbound direction.

In the past, the Virginia Department of Transported has said the toll prices go up and down based on how many people are using the I-66 Express Lanes, and it has kept traffic down and moving by cutting travel time by several minutes.

Most recently, the D.C. Council proposed spending nearly $500,000 to studythe idea of charging tolls and a congestion fee to drive in certain parts of the District.

Maryland’s plan to expand I-270 and the Beltway has growing public support. Governor Larry Hogan plans to add express lanes with adjustable tolls to the Beltway and I-270, while keeping the existing lanes free.

 

GOUGING: Cintra soaks commuters, charges $3/mile to drive privatized toll lanes on North Tarrant Express

Link to article here.

On this Texas toll road, drivers want to know why they’re paying $15 for just 5 miles
Why some Fort Worth toll roads are charging up to $15
By Gordon Dickson
April 23, 2019
Ft. Worth Star Telegram

Some North Texas drivers say they’re alarmed that tolls on some of the Dallas-Fort Worth region’s TEXPress lanes are skyrocketing to as much as $15, up from just $1 during less heavily-traveled periods.

Susan Forbes could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the price posted on the electronic sign, which pointed the way to an entrance for the TEXPress toll lanes on Texas 183 in Bedford.

She was about to enter a toll road that would charge her $15 for a distance of less than six miles.

“I paid it because I had already passed the exit,” explained the resident of Fort Worth’s Meadowbrook neighborhood. She commutes each day to an internet technology job in North Dallas.

“I knew I had been paying a lot more since the TEXPress opened,” she said, “but Holy Cow!”

Some North Texas drivers are alarmed at how high the toll rates are going up on the region’s TEXPress lanes, which have been open in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for about five years now. The idea of the TEXPress lanes is to give motorists on heavily-traveled freeways a choice — stay in traffic on the main lanes toll-free, or pay extra to get on the express lanes and get around the congestion.

Toll prices can be raised as often as every five minutes, theoretically to limit the number of drivers willing to get on the TEXPress lanes.

But, as the operators of the TEXPress lanes are finding out, raising the prices on the TEXPress lanes doesn’t always have the intended effect of thinning out the traffic. In some cases, it seems the higher the toll rates go, the more motorists want to use the TEXPress lanes.

Perhaps to those motorists, the higher toll prices are a signal that gridlock ahead on the toll-free main lanes is really bad, and paying a higher toll is better than being stuck in traffic for an hour or more.

Forbes says the same stretch of Texas 183 where she paid $15 has also charged her $13.05 on a different occasion. She provided a copy of her North Texas Tollway Authority monthly bill to show the $13.05 charge.

Some North Texas motorists have noticed a tremendous spike in the cost of driving TEXPress toll lanes in the Fort Worth area. Among them is Susan Lynch Forbes of Fort Worth, who recently paid $13.05 to travel on just five miles of Texas 183 in Bedford and Hurst. Photo Courtesy of Susan Lynch Forbes
The tollway authority operates the popular TollTag payment system, in which drivers pay tolls automatically with a sticker on their windshield. However, the tollway authority does not own the TEXPress lanes.

The tollway authority does operate its own toll road system, with roads such as Chisholm Trail Parkway in Fort Worth and the President George Bush Turnpike in Dallas. Those toll roads have much lower maximums of only 20 cents per mile, and the price doesn’t change based on traffic.

The TEXPress lanes, although they accept TollTags as a payment, are operated by a private-sector group of companies who have far greater flexibility to jack up the prices in response to traffic conditions.

“I’m on track to spend $5,000 or $6,000 this year, if I keep it up,” Forbes said in an email. “That’s compared to 2k a few years ago.”

Fort Worth-area commuters are wondering just how high the tolls can possibly go.

Michael Hustedde, an east Fort Worth resident, recently avoided getting on the TEXPress lanes on the same stretch of Texas 183 when he saw the toll price was $11.45. He was more accustomed to seeing prices in the $4 to $5 range for that stretch during rush hour.

“Traffic was its usual awful, but there wasn’t a wreck or anything to justify such a high price,” Hustedde said in an email. “Was this a computer error, or did a contract limiting the maximum rate expire?”

Hustedde provided a link to a list of frequently asked questions on the TEXPress lanes website, which indicates that the private companies managing the toll lanes, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, should only charge up to 75 cents per mile. Using that rate, the 5.7 mile stretch of Texas 183 from the Texas 121 split in Bedford to near North East Mall in Hurst should cost no more than about $4.28 — not $15, $13.05 or $11.45.

But it turns out that the 75-cent ceiling, which was created by the North Central Texas Council of Governments years ago as a regional policy for Dallas-Fort Worth based on 2010 dollar calculations, has actually increased because of inflation adjustments and now stands at 90 cents per mile, according to one official.

And, according to the council of governments, the company operating the TEXPress lanes has authority to temporarily exceed the 90-cent limit as necessary to reduce the number of cars on the toll lanes and keep traffic moving.

In other words, the 90-cent-per-mile is only a soft cap that can be exceeded when traffic warrants it.

“The cap on tolls may be temporarily exceeded during times of deteriorating performance to ensure speeds of 50 mph or above and adequate levels of service,” Michael Morris, transportation director for the council of governments, said in an email. “The situation you describe is a result of drivers continuing to take tolled managed lanes despite the high price. We are exploring the reason for this behavior as well as the capacity of the non-tolled lanes.”

Officials from North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners say they’ll meet with counterparts from the council of governments as well as the Texas Department of Transportation during the next few weeks to discuss how the tolling technology determine its prices and how the traveling public responds.
Despite the allegations by some motorists that they are being gouged by high toll prices, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners stands by its technology, a spokesman said.

“The dynamic tolling system for the North Texas managed lane corridors, that is designed to keep a certain level of traffic moving at a minimum of 50 mph at all times, is working as expected and according to the regionally approved policy providing drivers in North Texas a reliable alternative for their daily trips and commutes,” spokesman Robert Hinkle said in a statement. “As the managed and express lanes network expands, traffic volumes on those corridors continue to grow and driver behavior is evolving. As a result, tolls during peak travel times have periodically spiked due to high demand in the managed lanes, and have impacted a small percentage of overall drivers.”

Some drivers have learned how to avoid the TEXPress lanes during the busiest time of day.

Chris Bellomy, who as recently as late 2017 was paying $180 to $200 a month in tolls while commuting to his information technology job in Plano, says he is now paying far less.

Mainly, he spends more time working at home.

“I haven’t seen the worst of it,” he said, “because I generally avoid rush hour commutes.”

California local governments push congestion tax to get into LA

Link to article here.California Cities Push Congestion Tax
Southern California governments lobby to impose congestion tax on Los Angeles motorists.
The Newspaper.com
April 4, 2019A group of California counties and cities is desperate to join European colleagues in imposing a congestion tax on commuters. The Southern California Association of Governments issued a federally funded report last week exploring the feasibility of tolling drivers who enter downtown Los Angeles, raising money for transit and bicycle lanes.The study looked at various LA neighborhoods to determine where gridlock could best be exploited to raise funds. The options included Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hollywood, the downtown area, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica and Westside. The researchers said the tax would increase the number of people using bicycles by nine percent and walking by seven percent. According to the report, Angelenos will enjoy paying the charge because of these benefits.

“The Mobility Go Zone Program is expected to improve mobility and the transportation-user experience,” the report explained. “In practice, this means people will enjoy travel time savings to get to their respective work, leisure, school or other destinations.”

The introductory rate for the charge would be $4, paid by vehicles entering the charging zone during peak periods. Automated license plate reader (ANPR or ALPR) cameras would track cars and bill drivers who lack a FasTrak toll transponder. Comparable European cities have a congestion tax rate of about $15 per trip.

Over a decade, the operational costs of paying third-party vendors to collect the toll would run $326 million, including $15 million for the cost of toll collection equipment. The tax itself would collect from motorists between $87 million and $135 million per year for a net profit of $69 million per year.

The report concluded that the congestion tax would increase carpooling by 51 percent and reduce automobile miles traveled by 20 percent, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Such a tax would could be a tough sell to the public in Los Angeles. As the 1980s band Missing Persons put it, “Only a nobody walks in LA.” When the question was put to residents in Manchester, England, in 2008, some 79 percent voted against the idea of a congestion tax.

The idea of congestion charging was popularized in the UK in 2003 when London’s mayor at the time, Ken Livingstone, imposed the tax. In 2008, Livingstone was defeated by six points by Boris Johnson who campaigned on scaling back the charging zone.

Transport for London data show that the congestion charge has failed in its stated goal of controlling traffic levels downtown. Documented journey times inside the charging zone in 2007 were the same as in 2002, before the tax was collected, according to a 2008 report. An independent study found no reduction in pollution within zone. Currently, about half of the $360 million paid in tolls annually goes to the overhead cost, leaving $178 million in profit — most of which comes from late payment penalty tickets.

A copy of the report is available in a 5mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Mobility Go Zone Pricing Feasibility Study (Southern California Association of Governments, 3/31/2019)

‘Traffic Sucks’ – I-35 billboard pitches toll road bill

Link to article here.

The group “Texans for Traffic Relief” is behind the billboard. They want voters to decide whether roads will be tolled.

AUSTIN, Texas — One of the biggest busts in our boomtown is I-35.

It just hasn’t kept up with how much traffic there is.

A new billboard off of Airport Boulevard and I-35 sums it up. It reads: “Traffic Sucks.”

The group that put it up said one way to fix I-35 is to toll it.

“Texans for Traffic Relief,” a 501(c)4 organization, wants to get you to vote whether highways will be tolled.

“Some people like toll roads, some people don’t like toll roads,” David White, the group’s executive director, said. “We want to empower local communities to make the best decisions for them.”

The group is proposing HB 1951, the “Toll Payer Protection Act,” which would use private-sector investments to pay for expensive projects like I-35.

“There are companies across the country and the world who do infrastructure,” White said. “So, we want to incentivize them to come, if it’s voter-approved. And if the tolls come off the road and the road is paid for.”

The political action committee “Texans for Toll Free Highways,” instead, proposes bills to stop tolling and cap toll fines.

“You might have a $20 toll bill that you owe, but have thousands of dollars in fines and fees tacked onto that bill.” Terri Hall, the founder of the PAC, said.

The PAC is wary of even a taxpayer vote on tolls.

“There’s kind-of this fake veneer that it’s pro-taxpayer to say it’s all okay if we privatize tolling the roads. As long as there’s a public vote on it,” Hall said. “But it’s more like they put a gun to the public’s head and make them think, ‘Hey, there’s no other way that we can get this road fixed unless you do it our way.”

TxDOT said it is considering non-tolled express lanes on I-35. That project is estimated at $8 billion.

The department said it only has $790 million set aside so far.

At the Capitol, State Senator Kirk Watson (D) Austin proposed several transportation bills, including managed lanes for I-35. He said that could be HOV or toll lanes.

The department said it only has $790 million set aside so far.

At the Capitol, State Senator Kirk Watson (D) Austin proposed several transportation bills, including managed lanes for I-35. He said that could be HOV or toll lanes.

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…

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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!

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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!
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RUN-OFF ELECTION
EARLY VOTING: May 14-18
ELECTION DAY: May 22
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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.

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