Waco gets hits with proposed tolls on I-35

Link to article here. Now Waco gets hit with proposed toll lanes on EXISTING INTERSTATE I-35! Read the comments we submitted after this article…

Local residents comment on proposed toll lanes
Monday, January 14, 2008
By David Doerr
Tribune-Herald staff writer

Area residents have one more day to get in the last word on a proposal to add two toll lanes to Interstate 35 through Waco.

After receiving 14 submissions, the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization is accepting written comments on the staff recommendation it made in December to build the toll lanes along the 13-mile stretch between South Loop 340 and Elm Mott. All written comments received by 5 p.m. Tuesday will be submitted verbatim to the MPO’s policy board, which will make the decision on the toll lanes later this month.

Last month, Waco MPO director Chis Evilia announced that cuts in state and federal transportation funding were forcing local road planners to look at toll roads as a possible option to finance highway expansion projects.

Evilia said the MPO was forced to ax 13 of its 23 highway expansion proposals in McLennan County after Texas Department of Transportation officials announced last fall that there would be no money available to add capacity to the state’s road system after this year.

TxDOT officials have blamed the funding crisis on rising construction costs, federal cutbacks, state diversions of gas tax revenues and new restrictions on private investment in toll road projects.

Evilia has said that while state and federal transportation funding is in turmoil, one of the only ways to pay for road construction is through publicly managed toll projects. He expects out-of-towners driving through Waco to be the motorists who most often use the additional lanes and pay the tolls.

The MPO staff estimates that tolls would provide up to 40 percent of the funding to expand the highway to eight lanes. TxDOT officials say state coffers could pay the remaining 60 percent.

Tolls also could generate an additional $5.7 million to $10.9 million that could be used for other projects in McLennan County, according to MPO planning documents.

Evilia said the Waco City Council has requested a briefing on the toll road proposal and the overall highway funding problems during its meeting Jan. 22. He said he hopes the meeting starts a discussion about the local financing of highway projects, such as the expansions of Ritchie Road and Panther Way.

Comments can be hand-delivered to the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization office at the Dr. Mae Jackson City of Waco Development Center, 401 Franklin Ave. They also can be sent via e-mail to mpo@ci.waco.tx.us.


TURF Comments:

Tolling an existing interstate highway is a DOUBLE TAX. No matter how the pavement gets re-arranged when “new lanes” are paved down the middle, the taxpayers will be paying twice for the same stretch of road. The controversy surrounding the tolling of existing interstates has recently gone all the way to the halls of the U.S. Congress. In a recent appropriations bill, tolling existing interstates was prohibited in a one year moratorium.

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said this:“The purpose of having an interstate system is so that we could have seamless and free transportation into every State of our Union.” She also said: “…we are one step closer to protecting Texas taxpayers from paying twice for a highway. I will continue working with my colleagues to push for a permanent prohibition of tolling existing federal highways.”

Congressman Ciro Rodriguez said this: “Using toll roads to double-tax Texans is just plain wrong…The citizens of Texas have spoken and they do not want the federal highways they have already paid for to be converted into toll roads.”

Inside and outside Pennsylvania, citizens are up in arms that an interstate highway built with funds from ALL 50 states will be tolled, thereby double taxing not only Pennsylvanians, but ALL interstate traffic without voter approval by the taxpayers.

“I hate paying tolls,” said Anthony Foote. “It eats up my profit. If this goes through, you’ll have a lot of truckers avoiding Pennsylvania — including me.”

Pennsylvania officials plan to build up to 10 toll areas along the 311-mile stretch of Interstate 80 in the next three years to help pay for road, bridge and mass transit projects and subsidies.

The move has sparked a political war between the bipartisan coalition of state legislators who approved the plan and two Republican congressmen who say it is a “shell game,” taking revenue from rural Pennsylvania to bail out the state’s urban areas.

— The Bulletin, October 9, 2007
“It seems that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell is pushing a scheme to impose tolls on the Pennsylvania section of Interstate 80.

I’m pretty steamed, too. If Pennsylvanians want to charge tolls on the roads they built with their own money, such as the Pennsylvania Turnpike, that’s none of my business.

But I-80 was built with my tax dollars under a program begun by the esteemed Republican president Dwight Eisenhower. Now this Democrat wants to use the road as a cash cow.

Like Rendell, Corzine also flirted with the idea of putting tolls on our sec tions of I-80 and I-78, but Jersey drivers made it plain to Corzine that this was political suicide. So Corzine has to content himself for now with making a buck off our existing toll roads.” — Paul Munshine, New Jersey Star-Ledger, August 16, 2007

No one argues that I-35 is the primary north-south artery in the state of Texas and that it needs new capacity. However, let’s examine the the proposed funding. If only 40% of the project is toll viable and the state of Texas needs to subsidize the rest of it with public money, the project is not a self-sustaining toll road thereby making toll lanes on I-35 a TRIPLE TAX (one tax paid for what’s there today, then more public money to subsidize the project, and a third tax, toll tax to drive on it). This is horrific public policy!

Then, TxDOT has made known that NO NEW projects will be let in 2008 and likely 2009. So makes the Waco MPO believe that the money being promised in matching funds will ever come to fruition? The Waco MPO and City Council ought to carefully consider the source of the promises that have been made to them by TxDOT. This is the agency who enticed the Capitol Area MPO (CAMPO in Austin) into casting a politically controversial vote in FAVOR of toll projects only to yank the funding a few months later (Austin American Statesman, Dec. 17, 2007). TxDOT cannot be trusted.

The Texas Transportation Institute study shows we DO NOT Need a single toll road in the State of Texas to meet our future transportation needs. All that’s needed is a simple indexing of the gas tax. TxDOT didn’t like those conclusions, so it tries to dismiss the report as “flawed.” Also, a State Audit report last year showed that nearly HALF of TxDOT’s supposed “funding gap” figures (the amount of money for road project that the gas tax can’t cover) are pure fiction. The Governor even admitted in a news article in September of 2006 that the “funding gap” was based on a wish list, not needs (Austin American Statesman, August 20, 2006).

We have been hearing a steady cry for accountability and sanity to be injected back into transportation policy, not just in Texas, but the country. Taxpayers and voters see the staggering rise in fuel prices with no end in sight and can’t fathom how a new tax on driving can be squeezed out of the family budget. The cost of transportation is going up at a faster rate than people’s ability to pay it. TxDOT’s own studies have shown toll road aren’t even financially viable at $3 a gallon for gas. We are at that price today, so public servants ought to take a step back and ask themselves why are they promoting a financially unsustainable approach to transportation.

When the cost of transportation increases, it HURTS the economy. Even those who don’t take the toll road will still pay for it through the higher cost of goods, not just in Waco but throughout the state since most Texas goods and service providers use I-35. The decision you will make effects motorists and taxpayers far beyond Waco. The vast majority of citizens are not even aware of the proposed toll lanes on I-35. There have been NO TxDOT public hearings or any reliable means for seeking public comment prior to the MPO’s vote.

There has been no small uprising over tolls on existing corridors all over this state. Show courage and do what’s right by the taxpayers and say “NO” to tolls on I-35 and elsewhere. Every project with such sweeping costs and consequences ought not to be approved without a vote of the people.

– Terri Hall
Founder/ Director
Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom
A non-profit grassroots group defending Texas taxpayers from unaccountable new toll taxation and the Trans Texas Corridor