WOAI Talk Radio Interstate Toll Exclusive Prompts Outrage & U.S. Senate Action

Link to WOAI stories here and here.

WOAI radio in San Antonio has shut us out for many months but this week they launched the Joe Pags afternoon talk show and had Joe Krier, President of the San Antonio Greater Chamber of Commerce, San Antonio Mobility Coalition, and a pro-toll group Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, on the air promising no existing lanes would be tolled, then days later they “break” a story about a secret plan where TxDOT lobbied Congress to do just that.

Not sure where they’ve been all year, but we reported the news of TxDOT lobbying Congress to remove all limits to tolling interstates and their proposed buy back scheme that would give private corporations tax breaks on toll income in January. The Legislature was briefed on it in February! So when you read Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona feign outrage, remember that. Who’s he kidding? A housewife in San Antonio knows this but not the Senate Transportation Committee Chairman?

Well, we ought to feel vindicated as news of what we’ve all known since Ric Williamson uttered this now famous quote, “In your lifetime, most existing roads will have tolls” (Houston Chronicle, Oct. 11, 2004)…the plan is to turn all our existing roads into toll roads and DOUBLE TAX, even TRIPLE TAX us to use them. What’s most shocking in this media frenzy is the pretense of outrage on the part of elected officials.

Gimme a break…TxDOT has been converting our existing state highways into tollways all over the state, with two interstates highways slated to be tolled (I-35 throughout the state and I-10 in San Antonio and Houston), and they have done NOTHING to stop it! They all hide behind tough rhetoric, then give the green light to TxDOT to play a game of semantics and pretend that if they bulldoze our existing highways and do an elaborate and ghastly expensive re-arranging of the pavement, that they are somehow not tolling existing roads. It would be laughable were it not so serious.

“Outrage” is Reaction to 1200 WOAI News Toll Exclusive
Local, state officials vow never to allow TxDOT to toll existing highways

Friday, August 31, 2007
Reaction to the 1200 WOAI news exclusive report Thursday that the Texas Department of Transportation has a secret plan to turn all of the state’s Interstate highways into toll roads has been immediate and statewide, with ‘outrage’ being the least impolite word that is being heard to describe the reaction of officials and lawmakers.”I was disappointed to be once again blind sided in having to learn about this idea through the media, instead of from TexDOT,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, one of several local officials who has been assuring citizens that existing roads would ‘never’ be tolled. The entire officials 1200 WOAI news spoke with said they had never heard of the TexDOT memo until 1200 WOAI’s report brought it to their attention yesterday.”Going back and trying to toll already existing highways, in this case interstates, is outrageous,” Senator John Corona, (D-Dallas), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said when asked about the 1200 WOAI news report. “People have already paid for that.”

The 1200 WOAI news exclusive has now been copied by newspapers across the state.

Joe Krier, President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce and a leader in the toll road battle, said he had never heard about the report until 1200 WOAI news brought it to his attention, but it doesn’t change his basic support for toll roads.

“If other people have a better way to fund these roads in the short term, we’d be glad to hear it,” Krier said.

But toll road opponents jumped on the 1200 WOAI news report as evidence that TexDOT ‘cannot be trusted.’

“They want to shift all of our current highways into tollways, and double tax us for the rest of our lives,” said Terri Hall of TexasTURF, an anti toll road group.

“You can’t trust them,” Hall said. “One minute they’re telling you, ‘no, we have no intention of tolling existing roads,’ and then the next minute they’re sending reports to Congress asking for that very thing. I don’t think you can trust the agencies that are trying to toll our roads at this point. You can’t believe a word they say.”

The internal memo suggests that Texas state tax dollars could be used to ‘buy back’ the toll roads from the federal government, getting around a federal law that prohibits putting tolls on roads paid for with federal dollars. Not only would tolls then be collected on existing Interstates, but the companies that would collect the tolls would get tax breaks from Texas taxpayers.

“The deception of going back and trying to toll already existing, already paid for highways is wrong headed,” Carona told 1200 WOAI news.

Many local officials pointed to state laws which prohibit any tolls being added to existing roads without a vote of the local county commissioners court, and the voters.

“That TexDOT would now pursue the tolling of existing interstate lanes is unwise, unreasonable, and poor public policy,” Wolff said.


1200 WOAI Interstate Toll Exclusive Prompts U.S. Senate Action
Hutchison vows to introduce a bill to prohibit tolling of Interstates, entire TexDOT tolling plan in jeopardy
Friday, August 31, 2007
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison today vowed to ‘immediately’ introduce a measure that would prohibit states from tolling existing Interstate highways under any circumstances.It’s in response to that 1200 WOAI news exclusive Thursday, which has now been copied by other media statewide, revealing a secret Texas Department of Transportation plan to ‘buy back’ the federal equity in Interstates to get around a federal prohibition against tolling any highway paid for by federal tax money.”I intend to immediately introduce as free standing legislation my 2005 amendment that the Senate passed to prohibit tolling of existing Interstate highways,” Hutchison said.

The 1200 WOAI news report is sparking an anti TexDOT fervor across Washington D.C.

Congressman Charlie Gonzalez called TexDOT’s toll plan ‘alarming.’

“The public should never be charged to use public highways which were built with their tax revenue,” Gonzalez said. “Toll roads create an unnecessary fiscal burden on citizens, and I will oppose any federal plan to facilitate their construction by utilizing the federal highway system.”

The 1200 WOAI news report appears to have possibly fatally damaged TexDOT’s toll road initiatives, especially the already controversial Trans Texas Corridor.

Even the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the group that makes long term transportation plans, said today it has done all of it’s work ‘under the premise’ that tolls will only be assessed on new lanes.

“The MPO has not supported the tolling of existing highways or existing lanes,” MPO Policy Board Chair Sheila McNail said. “Such a measure will not be implemented in the MPO planning area.”

Many citizens who have called or been interviewed by 1200 WOAI news indicated they were on the fence about the toll issue, but now feel strongly that toll road should be opposed.