Guerra: Gas tax is penny a mile, every penny in tolls doubles the gas tax for that road!

Express-News article link.

No matter how you slice it, the gas tax system is FAR cheaper for motorists than tolls (pennies versus dollars). Do the math as Guerra does below and you’ll see! So even a toll of 14 cents a mile is 14 times more than the gas tax we pay for that mile. So with toll rates of 25 cents to $1.00 a mile, you can see tolls would be 25 -100 times more money OUT OF YOUR POCKET compared to gas taxes.

Carlos Guerra: Texas’ fast track to toll roads leaves unanswered questions
Web Posted: 03/14/2006 12:00 AM CST
San Antonio Express-News

Many Texans are now realizing that state leaders plan to put miles of toll roads into their not-so-distant future. But most still don’t realize that these plans have been years in the making, and that poor leadership and/or our leaders’ kowtowing to special interests created the claimed need for toll roads.

Texas’ first fuel tax — 1 cent-per-gallon of gasoline — was levied in 1923 to pay for roads needed for the state’s growing motor vehicle fleet, and was extended to diesel and liquefied petroleum gas in 1933. It remained a relatively low tax until it was raised to 10 cents per gallon in 1984; 15 cents in 1987; and, most recently, 20 cents in 1991. Today, a dime of the 20-cent tax pays for state roads, a nickel for county roads and the last nickel goes to public schools.

And though its revenues were raided several times to fund nonroad-related needs, Texas’ fuel tax — and a similar federal levy — paid for building and maintaining almost all of our immense asphalt web, which was built as we could afford it.

But increasingly, Texas Department of Transportation officials have claimed that gas taxes can’t meet needs expanded by population growth, increased NAFTA truck traffic and inflation.

“Our answer to people wanting mobility (has been), ‘We’ll get to you when we get to you,'” says David Casteel, TxDOT’s local district engineer. “We have told them, ‘When we get some money together, we’ll build your piece of road,’ and tried to squeeze as much local funding as we could.”

State transportation officials also say that since Texas’ highway system and inflation have never stopped growing, maintenance is progressively eating up more of the money.

In 2003 and 2005, two key changes to the Transportation code allowed TxDOT to charge drivers “user fees” more easily, and empowered the agency to cut deals with private-sector firms to fund roads on state-seized land in return for paying the state a fee.

These contractors will recoup their investment — and a tidy, long-term return — by collecting tolls for very long periods of time.

The contractors’ up-front investments, concession fees, and perhaps a cut of toll revenues for the state, the reasoning goes, will make a lot of money available for other transportation needs.

TxDOT critics counter that building roads on land purchased with gas taxes, and then tolling them is double taxation, and the imposition of an onerous new tax that will put billions into well-connected, private-sector pockets.

Nor do detractors buy into TxDOT’s assertions that it hasn’t enough money, or that so many more highway miles are desperately needed.

Should you double the size of the church to accommodate attendance for Easter services, they ask.

Critics also are putting pencils to the toll plans. A 20 cent-per-gallon tax for a vehicle that gets 20 mpg equals a penny per mile, one critic reasoned. But every penny-per-mile toll that is added atop that tax would effectively double the fuel tax on that road.

“The gas tax could increase 50 percent, and that would still cost only $0.015 per mile,” he concluded. “Big deal!”

And before accepting that tolls are an inescapable reality, we also should consider that in 1991, when our gas tax rose to 20 cents, gasoline was $1.11 cents per gallon nationally, and in Texas it was as low as 80 cents.

Should we still collect only 20 cents for gasoline that now often surpasses $2.50 a gallon?

To contact Carlos Guerra, call (210) 250-3545 or e-mail