Toll Party Guest Column in Express-News: Perry's toll roads to fleece taxpayers, a special interest money grab

Link to column here.

Well, kudos to the Express-News, our guest column got some ink, but it was edited. See unedited version below the Express-News version. The original had quotes about the public’s reaction to toll roads from the Lone Star Report and Austin-American Statesman that are quite different than what the Editorial Board, TxDOT, and pro-tollers claim. They also notably edited the truckers boycott of the foreign management of the Indiana Toll Road by the same two companies trying to buy-up San Antonio’s toll system.

Comment: Perry’s toll road proposals will fleece Texas taxpayers
By Terri Hall
Special to the Express-News
Dec. 3, 1006

Re: the editorial “First few tolled miles right move for Texas” (Nov. 19):

No one can give a single rational reason taxpayers should pay tolls for roads and improvements that are already 100 percent funded, such as U.S. 281 here in San Antonio, Texas 71 and U.S. 183 in Austin and Texas 121 in Dallas.

The Texas Mobility Fund, also known as Proposition 15 and passed in 2001, was sold to voters as accelerating transportation projects using bonds. Toll roads were on a list of projects noted in this vague ballot wording that politicians also used to divine the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Nowhere did this authorize the conversion of existing roads and rights of way into toll roads, nor did it authorize privatizing our public highways, nor did it authorize a Minute Order the Transportation Commission passed in December 2003 calling for all new improvements to be considered for tolls first.

The Texas Department of Transportation is repeatedly attempting to use population growth as the reason to toll existing and new improvements to Texas roads.

Let’s look at the facts.

When population increases, tax revenues also increase. TxDOT’s budget has more than doubled since Rick Perry took office without raising our taxes. TxDOT’s revenues have gone up about 178 percent in the past 20 years, and that’s adjusted for inflation and population growth.

Then consider that close to $10 billion in transportation funds have been raided to fund such things as cemeteries, tourism promotion and a computer system in the comptroller’s office. There’s no shortage of cash. Rather, there’s a shortage of fiscal discipline in favor of frivolous earmarks, which were a contributing factor in Republicans losing control of Congress in this last election.

TxDOT also has $7 billion (which is nearly equivalent to an amount doubling its annual budget) available in bonds right now to accelerate freeway improvements. Instead, it has earmarked them for toll roads.

TxDOT also has its own study on how to relieve congestion on Interstate 35 using existing funds and right of way, but it’s now ignoring it in favor of tolling I-35, Texas 130 (a bypass route from San Antonio to Austin) and the Trans-Texas Corridor, making it nearly impossible to travel north-south in this state without paying a toll.

When tolls increase the cost of a project anywhere from 40 percent to 100 percent more than constructing it as a nontoll project, when we pay 1 cent to 3 cents per mile under gas taxes versus 25 cents or more per mile on a toll road (per TxDOT’s own studies and admission it’ll charge “whatever the market will bear”) and when TxDOT uses noncompete agreements allowing the private entity control over the free lanes (including downgrading free lanes to frontage roads, slowing speed limits, increasing stop light times and prohibiting the state from upgrading or improving free lanes/roads near the tollway), it’s a no-brainer to conclude the taxpayer is getting fleeced!

This governor’s toll and “innovative financing” scheme is destroying our public freeway system. This new version of tolling is about generating more taxes (a toll is a tax) for the state while engaging in a revenue-sharing scheme that also lines the pockets of private and foreign companies (many based here in San Antonio), not about providing safe, efficient transportation all Texans can use.

It’s time for the public’s concerns to be addressed, not swept under the rug or sidestepped to “give toll roads a chance.”

Most folks have no problem with traditional toll roads, such as those in Houston and Dallas, that were brought to a public vote, were brand-new roads and the money and control stayed local. But this “let them eat cake” mentality is going to be a political noose around the neck of any politician who continues down the road of privatizing our public assets to enrich special interests and hijacking our free lanes to line the pockets of private entities in 50-year monopolies.

For more information, go to www.SATollParty.com.

Terri Hall is regional director of San Antonio Toll Party.com, a nonpartisan, grass-roots organization promoting nontoll, good government transportation solutions.
_____________________________________
ORIGINAL UNEDITED:

Perry’s version of tolls a special interest money grab

No one can give a single rational reason taxpayers should pay tolls for roads and improvements that are already 100% funded, like Hwy 281 here in San Antonio, Hwys 71 and 183 in Austin, and Hwy 121 in Dallas. The Texas Mobility Fund, also known as Proposition 15 passed in 2001, was sold to voters as accelerating transportation projects using bonds. Toll roads were in a list of transportation projects noted in this vague ballot wording that politicians also used to divine the Trans Texas Corridor. Nowhere did this authorize the conversion of existing roads and right of way into toll roads, nor did it authorize privatizing our public highways, nor did it authorize a Minute Order the Transportation Commission passed in December 2003 calling for ALL new improvements to be considered for tolls first.

Our Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is repeatedly attempting to use population growth as the reason to toll existing and new improvements to Texas roads. Let’s look at the facts. When population increases, tax revenues also increase. TxDOT’s budget has more than doubled since Rick Perry took office without RAISING OUR TAXES. TxDOT’s revenues have gone up at a rate of approximately 178% in the last 20 years, and that’s adjusted for inflation and population growth. Then consider that close to $10 billion in transportation funds have been raided to fund things like cemeteries, tourism promotion, and a computer system in the Comptroller’s office, there’s no shortage of cash. Rather there’s a shortage of fiscal discipline in favor of frivolous earmarks, which were a contributing factor in Republicans losing control of Congress in this last election.

TxDOT also has $7 billion (which is nearly equivalent to an amount doubling their annual budget) available in bonds right now today to accelerate FREEway improvements. Instead, they’ve earmarked them for toll roads. TxDOT also has its own study for how to relieve congestion on I-35 using existing funds and right of way, but it’s now ignoring it in favor of tolling I-35, Hwy 130 (a bypass route from San Antonio to Austin), and the Trans Texas Corridor making it nearly impossible to travel north-south in this state without paying a toll.

When tolls increase the cost of a project anywhere from 40%-100% more than constructing them as non-toll projects, when we pay 1-3 cents per mile under gas taxes versus 25 cents or more per mile on a toll road (per TxDOT’s own studies and admission they’ll charge “whatever the market will bear”), and when TxDOT uses non-compete agreements allowing the private entity control over the free lanes (including downgrading free lanes to frontage roads, slowing speed limits, increasing stop light times, and prohibiting the State from upgrading or improving free lanes/roads near the tollway), it’s a no brainer to conclude the taxpayer is getting fleeced! This Governor’s toll and “innovative financing” scheme is destroying our public FREEway system. This new version of tolling is about generating more taxes (a toll is a TAX) for the State while engaging in a revenue sharing scheme that also lines the pockets of private and foreign companies (many based right here in San Antonio), not about providing safe, efficient transportation ALL Texans can use.

Let’s get a reality check on what the public thinks about those shiny new Austin toll roads:

From the Lone Star Report, November 13 edition

Toll roads were a non-starter on election day Mike Krusee (R-Round Rock) gets only 50 percent of the vote in a solidly Republican district? And his Democratic opponent is within five percent? (My addition: Since this report, the election results are in doubt since Travis County made a 6,000 vote mistake and Krusee is now under 50%) This is but one example of the unpopularity of the state’s current transportation policies.

Most successful candidates ran as fast and as far as they could from the governor’s policy of making almost all new freeways toll roads. The Trans-Texas Corridor also did not play well on election day for a variety of reasons.

The Legislature will likely revisit this issue, which could put lawmakers on a collision course with Gov. Rick Perry.

It remains to be seen exactly what changes to current policy will gather steam at the Capitol. But transportation will be an issue in the spring.
_________________________________________

Then in the Austin American Statesman on November 10, 2006:

Just avoid the tolls

The easiest way to prevent the Trans Texas Corridor from happening is to not use the toll roads that are completed. I will never get on one of them, so the state will never reap one penny from me. If we all do that, then they won’t be able to repay the bond debt and won’t be able to sell future bonds for more toll roads.

Skip the toll roads, and let them eat cake.

KATHY SCHULTZ
kmsboz@hotmail.com
Round Rock
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Not happy with tolls roads

I was a tentative supporter of the new Austin area toll roads, based purely on the desperate need that any traffic relief option is better than nothing at all. The key word in my prior statement is “was.” As I witnessed the construction process, I gave the benefit of doubt that all the puzzle pieces would eventually fall into place. Oh, how I was wrong. The new traffic pattern will cause significant harm to the already tortuous Interstate 35 northbound traffic flow. It will also severely limit accessibility to the I-35 corridor businesses. The appearance indicates an overall intent to force tremendous misery; thus maximizing the opportunity to extort commuters through the toll system. More misery equates to more dollars. Where’s the accountability? This is a system with potential for good intent and purpose, but is severely tainted with tremendous deception. Ultimately, it will offer benefits to a large portion of frustrated Austin area commuters, but we have been sold a bad bill of goods with a perpetual high cost.

CLAY BRANDENBURG
clayb@osmtech.com
Cedar Park

Then, a group of independent truckers called the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, OOIDA, has recently called for truckers to bypass the Indiana Toll Road, which was leased to a consortium composed of Cintra, a Spanish investment consortium with ties to Juan Carlos and the ruling family of Spain (same group who was granted development rights to the Trans Texas Corridor and who is vying to take over the first San Antonio toll roads), and the Australian investment firm Macquarie Infrastructure Group (also vying to control the first San Antonio toll roads).

It’s time for the public’s concerns to be addressed not swept under the rug or sidestepped to “give toll roads a chance.” Most folks have no problem with traditional toll roads like Houston and Dallas that were brought to a public vote, were completely brand NEW roads, and the money and control stayed local. But this “let them eat cake” mentality is going to be a political noose around the neck of any politician who continues down the road of privatizing our public assets to enrich special interests and hijack our free lanes to line the pockets of private entities in 50 year monopolies.

For more information on this statewide shift to tolls and the many anti-taxpayer aspects to them, go to www.SATollParty.com.

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