Hutchison files bill to prevent tolling existing highways…good news for future, bad news for present

Link to article here. Note, it prevents future tolling of existing highways, but depending on how it’s interpreted, it may not stop many of the projects currently in the works.

Hutchison bill would prohibit some tolls
The Associated Press
September 6, 2007

WASHINGTON — Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison filed a bill Wednesday designed to block efforts by Texas officials to turn some of the state’s interstate highways into toll roads.

The Republican senator filed the bill after days of clamor in the state over reports the Texas Department of Transportation is lobbying Congress on the tolling issue and launched a $9 million ad campaign on toll roads.

The department wants a federal law passed that would allow the state to “buy back” parts of existing interstates and add toll lanes.

The department also has proposed tax breaks for private company investment in projects to convert interstates to tollways.

“My bill will protect drivers from paying tolls on roads that were already paid for by taxpayers,” Hutchison said.

The bill must make its way through the legislative process, including approval of identical bill language by the House and Senate, before it can sent to President Bush for his signature.

As proposed, Hutchison’s bill would:

– Prohibit collection of tolls on any part of federal highways that already are built and where no toll is collected.

– Prohibit imposing tolls on federal highways bought back by states on or after the day the bill goes into effect.

The bill would not apply to highways where a toll already is collected or which already were set to go into effect.

The bill also applies to bridges or tunnels on the interstate system.

Last week, the chairman of the Texas Senate Transportation Committee said he’s certain state lawmakers would oppose any effort to collect tolls on existing interstate highways.

In addition, U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, has called for hearings on the state’s plans. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Randall Dillard, Texas tranportation department spokesman, said the agency had not thoroughly reviewed the bill and did not have any comment.

Robert Black, spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry, had not seen the bill but said state law already prohibits turning existing roads into toll roads without local approval.

He said TxDOT doesn’t want to collect tolls on existing roads but wants to buy back parts of some highways so it can add toll lanes if needed.

“Our position, in terms of Congress getting involved in state transportation decisions, is (Perry) would hope the House and Senate would spend the bulk of their time trying to get back the state’s fair share of gas tax dollars because we’re still donors,” Black said.

The bill is S2019.