Jaime Castillo: Toll road proponents say motorists can and should pay more

Link to article here.

WARNING: Reading this article may cause you to throw things and kick the dog…or worse! Solution: VOTE THE BUMS OUT!

We warned the Texas Legislature this would happen if they passed that “compromise” bill, SB 792, that Rick Perry rammed through in the last weeks of the 80th session. TxDOT would use these new market-based tolls to rob us blind and them come back for more…without accountability, without representation. Toll taxes, especially market-based tolls, are runaway taxation without representation, and it’s the POLITICIANS WHO ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN that will pay dearly!

When people can scarcely fill their tank with gas at $3/gallon, it boggles the mind to think there’s a stitch of validity to this argument that motorists can and should pay the highest possible tolls. The bond buyers in an investment grade toll viability study for 183A in Austin said toll roads are no longer viable at $3 a gallon for gas. So from whence shall the toll money come? Short of taking food off the table and shoes off our children’s feet, there’s only so much the family budget can pay toward transportation before other necessities suffer. These are the same politicians who fail to fix runaway annual appraisals that lead to out of control property tax rates that, in turn, have caused every major Texas city to be in the top 10 for foreclosures in the country! Mad yet? Read on and then VOTE THE BUMS OUT!

Jaime Castillo: Toll road proponents: Motorists can — and should — pay more
San Antonio Express-News

They say you don’t kill the messenger, but can you at least throttle him?

The “him” in this instance is Dye Management Group Inc., which recently completed a draft audit on toll roads for the Texas Transportation Commission.

After taking a look at existing toll rates of 10 to 15 cents a mile in Dallas, Houston and Austin, the firm determined that local toll authorities aren’t charging drivers enough.

The logic — a term that should be used loosely — is that motorists can and will pay more, which would bring in more cash for the state’s yawning road needs.

“Tolls charged by local authorities are lower than studies indicate that their customers would be willing to pay,” the audit reads. “As a result, congestion goals will not be met.”

Translation: “If you want to raise funds for other projects, keep jacking up the toll price until drivers cry ‘uncle,’ and then back it off a penny or two.”

As reported by Express-News transportation writer Patrick Driscoll, the audit “mirrors much of what officials have been saying for years.”

Hope Andrade, a transportation commission member from San Antonio, told Driscoll:

“It just confirms the emergency situation that we’re in. We can no longer support toll rates that are not market value.”

If this were part of a political handbook on winning support for toll roads from a skeptical public, charging “market value” — or as much as you can get — on tollways would be relegated to the section titled: “How to lose even more support in 30 seconds or less.”

And this isn’t the fault of people like Andrade, either. State and federal lawmakers continually saddle transportation officials with a losing poker hand.

In the last 16 years, the state’s population — and construction costs — have grown exponentially. Yet, the gas tax — the primary source of highway funding — has been frozen since 1991.

And not only has it remained static in an ever-changing world, state lawmakers can’t keep their hands off of it either.

Continuing its long-running budgetary shell game, the Legislature’s latest two-year budget will see one-tenth, or $1.6 billion, of the highway fund diverted from building and maintaining roads.

With fiscal constraint apparently off the table, raising the gas tax must be looked at seriously. While difficult with gasoline prices hovering around $3 a gallon, it could be done if the entire state leadership — the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker — supported the change.

That way, lawmakers, who already quietly concede that the gas tax is too low, could stick their necks out and not fear being singled out as the pigeons that supported higher taxes.

The alternative is to unnecessarily gouge those who will use toll roads. If the recommendations by Dye Management Group are the guide, toll riders will soon have the privilege of paying the highest tolls possible and paying the 20-cent-a-gallon gas tax.

A recent trip to the car dealer landed me in a shuttle van with several other car-less souls.

The shuttle van driver, exasperated by a 15-minute wait to go a couple of miles on U.S. 281 North, said to no one in particular:

“This almost makes you want to see toll roads.”

To which, a homeowner who lives near the intersection of 281 and Bulverde Road blurted out:

“I don’t care what they do as long as they do something soon.”

With that kind of captive — and infuriated — audience, state and local transportation officials are banking that they will get their way eventually.

But it still doesn’t make it right.