Commuters charged $3/mile on North Tarrant Express

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.

SHAFTED: Patrick deals blow to toll opponents by removing allies from committee

Patrick gives toll opponents a raw deal with new Senate Transportation Committee

Senator Bob Hall

Senator Bob Hall

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced committee assignments for the 86th session of the Texas Senate last week, and there’s no way to sugar coat it — toll opponents got shafted. The most notable shake-up on the Senate Transportation Committee is the removal of Vice Chair Senator Bob Hallfrom the committee. Four years ago, a group of freshmen senators known for being the fabulous eight took the Texas Senate by storm and ushered in a new era of conservatism in the upper chamber. Hall, Don HuffinesLois KolkhorstCharles Perry, and Brandon Creighton were part of that group and their appointment to the Senate Transportation Committee was considered a gift by Patrick to the grassroots for creating a deliberate, conservative voting block on what had been a crony capitalist, pro-toll committee controlled by toll road special interests.

Senator Don Huffines was removed last session at the behest of the pro-toll committee chairman, Senator Robert Nichols, which began to erode the grassroots voting block. Huffines had filed a whopping 11 anti-toll bills his freshman session, so the loss of Huffines was bad enough. He was replaced with Kelly Hancock, whose Warren Buffet bill to get special access to the Texas auto market for special interests while continuing to exclude others, got slapped down by the grassroots quicker than a gnat on your knee. Hancock also made a comment during an interim committee hearing on toll collection reform advocating for a barricade blocking Texas drivers from tollways until they paid their toll bills similar to an airport parking lot that won’t let you out until you pay up. He was tapped to replace Hall as Vice Chair. Creighton was also taken off the committee. While Perry remains on the committee, many view Senator Kolkhorst as the only vocal toll opponent left on the committee.

Who did Patrick replace the anti-toll voting block with? Senator Royce West is back on the committee, which is shocking considering his law firm has profited from public bond sales for Dallas Rapid Transit among other public entities. The same is true of Juan ‘Chuy’ Hinojosa who remains on the committee — his law firm does business with a litany of public toll road authorities. So Dallas now has someone representing them on the committee who stands to personally gain from bond deals instead of Hall who is a staunch opponent of toll schemes and without potential conflicts of interest. Wouldn’t newly elected Senator Angela Paxton have been a good choice to represent taxpayers in the North Texas area, especially since she hails from the most toll-concentrated county in the state, Collin County?

Newly elected Senator Carol Alvarado was also appointed to the committee, who consistently received an ‘F’ on anti-toll report cardswhen she was a House member. Charles Schwertner is also new to the committee, and he’s earned an ‘A’ average on anti-toll report cards, however, his influence has been greatly diminished by a sexting scandal, ultimately forcing him to resign from leadership over the Senate Health Committee. Make no bones about it, toll opponents had the rug pulled out from under them.

Hall is a rare lawmaker who digs into the nitty-gritty of an issue, studies the problems, and formulates solutions that are a better deal for taxpayers. Hall has already filed bills to repeal the universally disliked Driver Responsibility Program (that traps the poor in an endless cycle of criminal penalties they cannot possibly pay to get their drivers license back legally), to remove tolls once the debt is paid, to repeal exorbitant toll fines and fees that have been used to bludgeon and abuse Texas drivers into financial ruin and criminal penalties, a bill to help get major transportation projects funded without raising taxes, as well as a bill to make local toll authorities more accountable by broadcasting and archiving their board meetings over the internet. It’s safe to say, Hall has become a transportation expert and takes aim at the bureaucracies wreaking havoc on Texas drivers everywhere. So why would Patrick remove him from the one committee where most of Hall’s focus, energy, and expertise has been directed?

Patrick asked for and received the endorsement from Texans for Toll-free Highways, PAC for his stellar record fighting toll roads since he was first elected Lt. Governor. So the removal of Senator Hall from the Senate Transportation Committee is a major kick in the gut to taxpayers and his own supporters, especially considering the recent retirement of former House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett, a huge advocate for removing tolls from roads that are paid for who had declared war on toll managed lanes that are making congestion worse, not better.

There are few places to turn to find reputable, reliable toll opponents willing to fight for taxpayers and call out toll bureaucrats when they’re trying to pull a fast one (which happens frequently in committee). Removing one of the biggest anti-toll advocates not only from his leadership position as Vice Chair, but from the committee altogether, just doesn’t pass the smell test. Something’s terribly wrong and voters need to be made aware that the fix is in — don’t expect toll road reform. Apparently toll taxes, that now approach the level of a property tax bill for many households topping $300/month per driver in some cases, is not part of broader tax reform being touted by leadership. After making a strong ‘no more tolls’ promise in November 2017, it’s hard to fathom how the composition of the Senate Transportation Committee could be any worse for toll opponents. Voters need to hold Patrick’s feet to the fire and demand toll tax reform along with property tax reform this session. What good does it do to put money in one pocket only to take it out of the other? That doesn’t give Texans net tax relief and silence is approval.

Bidding Pickett farewell, longtime transportation taxpayer ally retires

Farewell: Pickett’s love for transportation and sticking up for taxpayers will be sorely missed
Pickett Joe jpg 800x1000 Move Texas ForwardRetiring Texas State Representative Joseph Pickett (D – HD 79) is one in a million. Truly there is no one in the Texas House who undertook transportation as a matter of personal study with the aim of improving every step of the process for both the government agencies in charge of delivering projects and also for the forgotten taxpayer like Joe Pickett. He announced his retirement right before Christmas citing his battle with cancer and the need to fully recover without the rigors of a legislative session. It’s truly a devastating loss for the people of Texas. Here’s why.

No one knows Texas transportation like Pickett, and there is no one currently in the Texas House who can come close to replacing his depth of knowledge and expertise anytime soon. He’s been in the Texas House since 1995, serving first on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation then on the Transportation Committee itself, eventually chairing the committee for two sessions.

Pickett not only served on his local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in El Paso as a councilman, but also during most of his tenure in the Texas House. He also served as Chair of the El Paso MPO for several terms. Local MPOs are where the nitty gritty of transportation projects take place. These boards, comprised of local elected officials and transportation agency officials, decide which local projects get priority over others and where gas tax dollars and transportation funds get allocated. Ever since the Rick Perry ‘toll everything so we can generate new revenue and not call it a tax’ began, the MPOs often decide whether or not a road project is tolled. Those are fighting words for many Texans faced with high monthly toll bills that approach the level of a property tax bill for many families in urban areas. Pickett had the savvy and finesse to challenge TxDOT, toll agencies, and MPOs about various toll project decisions and discern whether or not it was truly warranted or just a potential cash cow for an unaccountable agency.

In recent years, Pickett declared war on toll ‘managed lanes.’ Managed lanes can mean a lot of different things, but they primarily involve a restricted express lane inside the general purpose lanes of an existing freeway where access is given based on paying a toll, being a registered carpool, or using some form of mass transit. The toll rates on these lanes change in real time throughout the day — going up based on the level of congestion on the adjacent free lanes. Toll rates skyrocket past $1.00 a mile during peak hours in many cases, like the managed lanes inside MoPac in Austin or the privatized managed lanes on I-635 in Dallas and I-820 in Ft. Worth. It’s become an unaccountable new tax on driving knocking the majority of Texas drivers out of lanes their tax money paid for (in part or in some cases the lanes are 100% tax-funded). This is why today’s version of tolling is called a double tax — you’re paying a toll to use a lane you’ve already paid for.

Pickett was largely responsible for two of the largest infusions of new highway funding in state history — Proposition 1 in 2014 and Proposition 7 in 2015. He was also an advocate of ending the 25% diversion of state gasoline tax to public education as a matter of principle. He believes it violates truth in taxation and betrays the public trust when politicians collect a tax for one purpose then spend it for another. Pickett was also one of the first legislators to sound the alarm that the state was in over its head with road debt, and he cut off at least one major source of debt, the Texas Mobility Fund, of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in 2015.

But his legislative accomplishments barely scratch the surface of what his transportation legacy will be. Ultimately, Pickett was best known for drilling down into the numbers, doing his research, understanding every category of funding and every nuance of state transportation and used it to hold TxDOT and the many toll agencies now online (over 13) accountable to lawmakers and the public who funds them. Last session alone, he authored bills later turned into amendments to remove tolls from a highway in El Paso that was already paid for, to ensure gas taxes and other public funds weren’t handed out like candy to toll agencies as subsidies requiring any public money to be repaid to taxpayers, and to prevent the conversion of free lanes into toll lanes.

No House member tried to hold the transportation agencies accountable like Pickett. He used his depth of knowledge and expertise to fight for taxpayers and a more efficient and nimble process rather than give them a free pass or use one’s leadership on the committee to benefit their district or personal agenda as many do.

Pickett leaves behind a legacy unrivaled by anyone in the Texas House, and he will be dearly missed. The people of Texas not only owe him a debt of gratitude, they’ve lost one of their greatest advocates and allies in the Texas legislature. Without his wealth of knowledge to keep the agencies and their narrative to lawmakers in check, special interests and taxpayer-taxpayer-funded lobbyists of the agencies themselves will become the new ‘experts’ for lawmakers, allowing cronyism and self-interest to creep into Texas transportation absent a robust taxpayer watchdog.

Thankfully, Texas has Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways as volunteer citizen watchdogs on transportation and toll road issues. Their role will be more vital than ever without Pickett in the House, who has been their reliable voice in committee and on the floor of the House during the throes of heated debate defending the truth and ensuring the agency’s talking points don’t cow lawmakers into a corner. Pickett knew when the agencies were bluffing and when they truly needed a new infusion of cash. Without his knack for sniffing out deception, taxpayers will be hard pressed to find a floor debater to defend them. So while we honor his legacy and wish him a fond farewell, we grieve the retirement of one of Texas’ best. He’s left his mark, and we’re forever grateful for his 24 years of service in the Texas House.

Toll Taxes Taking a Toll

Many Texans are faced with paying an extra, burdensome toll tax on driving just to get to work or travel across the Lone Star State. Drivers are shocked to find tolls that exceed $1 per mile during rush hour, costing hundreds of dollars a month and thousands per year in new taxes on driving. Tolls have become like a second property tax bill for many households.

Tolls are financially ruining many Texas families to the point that they either have to move closer to work or move away completely to avoid the extra tax. On top of the tolls themselves, Texas drivers are being hit with huge fines and fees.

A recent report by KXAN showed Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) alone has put over 2 million Texans into collections for past due bills.

TxDOT imposed over $1 billion in toll fines and fees, and they only operate a handful of toll projects, mostly in Austin. Austin, like every urban city in Texas, also has a second unelected toll agency that recently admitted only $15 million of the $100 million it has collected was for actual tolls — the other $85 million amounts to fines and fees. It’s an epidemic.

Toll agencies can block your vehicle registration and even impound your car on the spot if you have unpaid tolls. Since many Texans have a car payment, they could be forced to make payments on a vehicle they can longer drive while at the same time, have no way to get to work to pay the toll bill and fees for impoundment.

The Texas Legislature has made unpaid tolls a criminal offense. This brings us back to a form of debtors’ prison, which is unconstitutional.

Gone are the days when toll roads were occasional and the toll came off the road once the debt was paid. Now unelected boards have been empowered by the legislature to create complicated toll systems that are financially interdependent, making it so no toll project is ever truly paid for, allowing tolls in perpetuity — which violates the Texas Constitution.

This ought to concern every Texan, and our legislators need to hear from us about changing the law to make tolls come off these roads once the initial debt is paid.

Source article


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

Anti-toll candidates win in midterm election

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 HallAngela PaxtonDonna 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.

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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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.