Dixon: We need principled road policy

Link to article here.

Mr. Dixon has been a stalwart supporter of the cause for many years. He’s sacrificed more hours than we can count in Austin advocating for taxpayers on transportation issues. This article was also published in the Lone Star Report. It hits the nail on the head of how we move forward…

Tired of Gridlock? Try Principled Road Policy
by Don P. Dixon
Dallas Morning News, Guest blogger
Mon, Apr 12, 2010

The main reasons Texans are stuck in traffic is a massive failure in public road policy, lack of reforms and inefficiency at TxDOT. The fact is that public roads are a low priority for the state.

In 30 years the state budget went up 8.66 times – from $10.22 billion in 1980 to $88.57 billion in 2009.

In the same 30 years, road work went up 2.69 times from $1.58 billion to $4.25 billion.

In 1980, Texas spent 15.45 percent of state budget on road work (maintenance and new construction). In 2009 Texas spent 4.8 percent of state budget on road work.

Whether state leaders believe it or not, in 30 years road work priority and efficiency continue to deteriorate. Car and truck drivers have paid billions in gas taxes and registration fees to build and maintain the roads, but almost half is diverted away from public roads. All gas tax and registration fees should go to public roads.

Taxpayer restitution of at least $12 billion needs to be corrected by temporarily transferring auto/truck sales tax (including parts sales) to public roads, almost $4 billion per year.

Before the public is asked to pay more in new taxes, reform of road policy must occur:

1. Stop building roads with debt such as $12 billion state road debt and $12.7 billion plus off-budget toll road debt.

2. The toll road debt and costs to run toll road bureaucracy are unacceptable, unaffordable, and unsustainable.

3. End diversions completely.

4. Increase TxDOT efficiency and stop wasteful spending.

5. TxDOT must halt the siphoning of billions of dollars from public roads to convert public right of ways into toll roads, i.e., stop tolls, stop CDAs (privatizing road ways).

6. End non-traditional financing (innovative financing).

The off-budget tax increases the state leaders have laid on drivers through tolls and privatizing Texas roads are confiscatory taxes. This must be stopped.

The toll tax of 17 cents to 75 cents per mile means the driver pays $4 to $17 per gallon extra for toll roads.

The 87 toll roads TxDOT has on its books will cost Texans, optimistically speaking, a minimum of $177 billion in toll tax over 22 years, which annualized is more than the current TxDOT budget.

No one likes tax increases; however, if additional funds areneeded after reforms, the statewide gas tax per gallon is the most efficient and most fiscally responsible way to fund roads.

With regard to the local option tax, Gov. Pat Neff (father of the public road system) learned it served only to create a patchwork road system. He saw it was a failed system, so he founded the statewide highway system.

A uniform statewide public road system funded at the state level – freely accessible by all citizens, regardless of income, status or location – is the proper and rightful duty of the state.

The once superior ranking of the Texas public road system was lost by compromising sound, principled road policy. Thus we are in road gridlock.

Restoration of an equitable statewide public road system will come about only through our elected leaders, in every branch of government, recognizing the cause and courageously mandating an accountable agency using best practices and a sound fiscal policy in order to regain the taxpayers’ trust.

Don Dixon is a retired engineer who lives in San Antonio.