Editorial: Texans at transportation crossroads

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Dixon: Don’t let the Legislature take a wrong turn when it comes to transportation
Austin American Statesman
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
A secret hides in the midst of Texas Road Policy, and it doesn’t just stop at money siphoning, conversion of public roads to toll roads or toll taxes. The 2009 Texas Legislature now lingers at a crucial transportation crossroad, as a select few determine the future of Texans’ rights to public roadways.

Under former Texas Gov. Pat Neff, the Legislature implemented an efficient, affordable and uniform statewide public road system. Today our public road system is being converted into toll roads for the rich while the Texas Legislature diverts more than $10-12 billion from the building of public roads.

As jobs continue to become scarce and layoffs abound, Americans are cutting back on spending, which includes paying several dollars a day additional toll tax. The toll tax, which amounts to $4-6 per gallon, is actually a double tax and simply not affordable or acceptable for the vast majority of Texans. Toll roads destroy Gov. Pat Neff’s ideal program for a uniform highway system that is freely accessible to all citizens regardless of income, status or location.

It is the duty of the state to fund and furnish a freely accessible public road system for all Texas cities. The state has failed. Current public policy is burdening our citizens with the cost of tolls, forcing many Texans to drive through neighborhood streets in an effort to avoid tolls. You may say: who cares? You should. High toll costs and toll avoidance doesn’t only affect some, it affects everyone due to pollution, street damage and neighborhood safety is compromised.

The Transportation Commission recently issued a list of 87 proposed new toll roads with a base cost of $59 billion, resulting in an accrued $177 billion toll tax on Texas citizens over the next 23 years. Not only will this unduly burden Texans, but it will also cost more to build these toll roads, due to toll collection installation, than it would to build public roads. What’s worse is that Texas continues to convert existing public right-of-ways into toll roads. Even worse is the fact that money that should be going to build and maintain public roads has actually been siphoned off to design and build toll roads. Several reports show that more than $93 million has been diverted from public roads to toll roads thus far.

At one time Texas had the best public roads in the nation using the proven best way to provide uniform, efficient roads: a properly applied gas tax along with vehicle registration. On average, Texans pay a gas tax of 1.6 cents per mile for public roads, compared to 20 cents a mile for toll tax. For a state with as large of a geographic area as Texas, the U. S. Government should return 100 percent of fuel taxes back to Texas for use on public roads; Texas is only receiving 88-92 percent. All gas taxes and financial assistance should exclusively be applied to public roads.

Engineering, construction and bond companies make huge profits from toll roads. Their political contributions promote toll roads.

The Texas Legislature needs to regain public trust by correcting errant road policies:

• BUILD the needed public roads, which are freely accessible to all citizens.

• QUIT diverting money from public road funds ($10-12 billion to date).

• STOP converting public right-of-ways into toll roads.

• SCRAP the fringe policies of toll roads, corporation-run toll roads on public right-of-ways, regional mobility authorities, Trans Texas Corridors and non-traditional funding.

This transportation crossroads will set the course of Texans’ indebtedness or freedom as it either denies Texans’ rights or empowers our growth and worth. Texas, it’s your roadways; your ill-used money; and your right to drive on freely accessible public roads. Stand up and make your voice heard before our Legislature makes the wrong turn at this crucial crossroad.

Dixon lives in San Antonio.