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
Anti-toll candidates fare well in midterm election
The midterm election in Texas concluded with new battle lines drawn and the margin between parties closer than ever in what was considered a solidly red state. Anti-toll candidates fared well, winning the majority (18 of 27) of the races endorsed by Texans by Toll-free Highways. Likewise, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom’s (TURF) Voter Guide, that rates incumbents based on voting records and its survey on toll roads and property rights related questions, saw many of its top rated candidates who had contested races chalk up victories. All the anti-toll candidates at the top of the ballot won, including Ted Cruz, two congressional candidates, Ron Wright and Chip Roy, as well as Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The state’s two top leaders, Abbott and Patrick, put a line in the sand last November declaring no more tolls moving forward. Voters re-elected both and they’ll hold them to that promise
The biggest defeats came in the Texas House with 9 anti-toll backed candidates losing, and one outcome is still too close to call as it’s undergoing a recount in House District 132 where incumbent Mike Schofield has fallen behind his challenger. While tolls may not have played a huge role in several of those races, the hardest ones to choke down are the losses of two anti-toll champion senators, Konni Burton (R – Colleyville) and Don Huffines (R- Dallas), and House Freedom Caucus anti-toll champion Matt Rinaldi (R – Irving). The other four anti-toll backed senate candidates won their races: Bob Hall, Angela Paxton, Donna Campbell, and Pat Fallon.
The Democrat bump from the energy brought to the midterms by Beto O’Rourke’s U.S. Senate race made many races close and flipped many Republican held seats to Democrats in urban areas, particularly Dallas County. Only a handful of Democrats engaged the grassroots on the toll issue, and most failed to return candidate surveys or vetting questionnaires, so it’s unclear where they stand on toll road issues.
The two standouts are Democrats Terry Meza (HD 105) and Vicki Goodwin (HD 47). Texans for Toll-free Highways endorsed Goodwin over incumbent Paul Workman, representing west Travis County who consistently earned an ‘F’ on our TURF’s legislative Report Cards, racking up one of the worst voting records on toll road issues in the Texas House. Meza has engaged on the issue and is ready to work with the grassroots to relieve this undue tax burden on working families in Irving and Grand Prairie. Incumbent Rodney Anderson rated fairly well on TURF’s Report Cards, but there’s no question the toll tax burden is a major issue in the district and the Metroplex. Moving forward, Meza is not a net loss for taxpayers in HD 105 on toll roads.
With the Democrat surge over Republicans in urban areas complicating how to interpret this midterm election in general, overall, the anti-toll cause is in good shape heading into the 86th Legislative Session regardless of the overall two-party battle lines. The grassroots will remain laser focused on legislation to remove the toll once the debt is paid off and expanding the toll collection reforms secured last session to all toll agencies. At least 14 taxpayer funded toll agencies will be lobbying hard against taxpayers seeking to cap toll fines and remove tolls on roads that are paid for. With new leadership in the House and strong allies in the senate and governor’s office, voters should expect both to pass in spite of taxpayer funded lobbying by toll bureaucracies.
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.
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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.
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
Capitol Extension Rm E1.016
Texas State Capitol
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 (firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.
Run-Off Early Voting: May 14-18
Election Day: May 22
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.
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.
(Austin, Texas, Wednesday, March 7) It was a good night for anti-toll candidates yesterday as voters headed to the polls for the March 6 primary election. Gov. Greg Abbott led the way winning overwhelmingly with 90% of the vote, United States Senator Ted Cruz right behind him with an impressive 85%, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, also winning handily with 76%. Though no one expected the primary challengers to pose a real threat to the state’s three top officials, some others down ballot had real threats and they survived — some convincingly.
With Senator Bob Hall being the most high profile target of the pro-toll cabal, he won the primary with 53% of the vote. Anti-toll State Representative Pat Fallon beat pro-toll incumbent Senator Craig Estes in Senate District 30, garnering 62% of the vote. In Senate District 8, anti-toll Angela Paxton won the open seat replacing anti-toll Sen. Van Taylor (who also overwhelmingly won the primary for congress in District 3). In a highly contested race for congress to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith in District 21, two anti-toll candidates head to a run-off. Texans for Toll-free Highways endorsed Chip Roy, who led the crowded field of 18 candidates with 27% of the vote.
Perhaps the biggest upset of the night for the anti-toll cause was in House District 114 where Lisa Luby Ryan ousted the rabidly pro-toll incumbent Jason Villalba, who has persistently pushed tolls on I-635E. Anti-toll Mayes Middleton unseated pro-toll incumbent Wayne Faircloth in House District 23, with opposition from Abbott aiding in putting Middleton over the top. In House District 106, anti-toll Jared Patterson won the open seat vacated by Fallon.
Other notable anti-toll races were in House District 73, where current State Representative Kyle Biedermann had a fierce challenge from pro-toll Dave Campbell, but Biedermann won with 58% of the vote in a race where over 30,000 ballots were cast (which dwarfs most house races). Other challengers to House Freedom Caucus members, Mike Lang, Matt Schaefer, and Valoree Swanson were also defeated. The Freedom Caucus stands strong against toll roads, and they’re credited with helping the grassroots get 6 out of 7 anti-toll reforms into law last year.
Another intense anti-toll race is brewing in House District 13, where the battle for this open seat takes center stage with anti-toll Jill Wolfskill leading as she heads into a run-off with pro-toll former County Judge Ben Leman in a race where tolls on SH 249 have rocked Grimes County with controversy for several years. In House District 8, anti-toll Thomas McNutt made it into a run-off along with Matt Beebe in House District 121 in another fierce battle for the open seat vacated by embattled Speaker Joe Straus.
Anti-toll Stuart Spitzer heads to a run-off in House District 4, along with Brent Lawson in House District 62. In House District 107, anti-toll DeAnna Metzger almost won outright in a three way race (she captured 45% of the vote), but she’s headed for a run-off before facing the ardently pro-toll incumbent Victoria Neave in the general election this fall. Anti-toll Jonathan Boos won in a three-way race for the open seat in House District 113 vacated by current State Rep. Cindy Burkett. Michael Berlanga also won the GOP primary for House District 117. Berlanga faces the tough challenge of unseating pro-toll Philip Cortez in the general election.
Meanwhile, three friendly anti-toll incumbent state representatives, Giovanni Capriglione, Rodney Anderson and Ron Simmons retained their seats. Anti-toll former State Rep. Steve Toth won his primary in the bid to regain his old seat.
Even in some local races, anti-toll challengers fared well. Anti-toll Mark Keough beat the pro-toll incumbent in the Montgomery County Judge race, and anti-toll Gregory Parker managed to get the incumbent in the Montgomery County Commissioner Precinct 2 into a run-off.
Also appearing on the GOP ballot was Proposition 2 a big litmus test for the anti-toll sentiment in the party. It stated: “No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval.” It passed with 90% of the primary voters, signaling the GOP base is sick of paying toll taxes, especially without their consent.
All told, anti-toll candidates had a fantastic showing with 18 wins and 7 making it into run-offs, sending a message not only to state leaders but all the way to Washington D.C. where the recently released Trump infrastructure proposal is pushing tolls, particularly those that hand public highways to private toll operators in 50-year sweetheart deals. Texans have said ‘No’ to tolls from the beginning and their voices are only getting louder.
Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) was instrumental in protecting taxpayers from double taxation by defending the ban on tolling existing interstates during her tenure, even imposing a special provision to protect Texas. Now Trump wants to provide states “flexibility to toll existing interstates.” This means the lanes you drive today toll-free could now have tolls slapped on them simply to generate revenue for big government as a new tax in the hands of unelected toll agencies or to line the pockets of private toll operators — completely out of reach of the voters.
Trump’s base sees the president as a champion of the working man. They elected him to look out for American workers by cracking down on illegal immigration, nixing or renegotiating hostile trade agreements, and putting more money back in their pockets. Now they may be asking, what good does it do to put money back in one pocket through tax cuts only to take it out of the other with confiscatory toll taxes, especially in the hands of private, for-profit, global corporations?
Groups like Alliance for Toll-free Interstates along with many grassroots groups that span the country from tea parties to pro-taxpayer organizations vehemently oppose the toll component of Trump’s plan. P3s are particularly unpopular due to the massive taxpayer subsidies and putting taxpayers on the hook for most of the funding through federal loans and bonds.
“Tolls are a wildly inefficient tax, sacrificing money that could go toward construction 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,” said Stephanie Kane, spokesperson for the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates. “This plan is not innovative or good policy – it is simply a nationwide plan for #TrumpTolls.”
“The Trump Administration’s infrastructure plan is choosing Wall Street over Main Street. Tolls will take money from hardworking Americans and give huge profits to toll road investors – many of which are foreign companies,” Kane said.
It’s not just commuters who worry about this new tax. Industries such as shipping and manufacturing fear the added cost tolls will add to moving goods throughout the country, increasing costs to consumers.
“Everyone understands the inefficiencies of toll collection and that a large portion goes to investors instead of road construction, but what they may not be aware of is the impact on the cost of doing business. Companies that move goods, such as UPS, rely upon the unrestricted flow of goods on interstates to move freight throughout the country. Nationwide tolls will dramatically impact the cost of moving goods, and ultimately consumers will pay a higher price,” said Rich McArdle, President of UPS Freight.
When the interstate highways system was conceived, the president and congress decided to do it with a gas tax based system rather than tolls because there would never be enough money collected in rural parts of the country to pay for their own roads. So the renewed push for tolls is looking an awful lot like a targeted tax on urban commuters — the very working class voters that comprise Trump’s base.
The federal-aid highway system has been primarily funded with a federal gasoline tax, currently at 18.4 cents per gallon which has remained unchanged since 1993. With revenue from gas tax chronically falling short of what congress spends, politicians love turning to tolls as a get-out-of-jail-free card to voting for a tax hike. But most Americans aren’t fooled by the distinction without a difference – a toll is a tax, especially when being imposed on lanes their tax money has already build and paid for.
Tolls have been and will remain wildly unpopular with ordinary citizens. The crony capitalist wing of the Republican party seems to be winning over the president in lieu of his Main Street voter base. The opposition to tolls, especially those imposed on lanes that are already paid for, will only grow stronger and louder as congress weighs the president’s proposal.
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.