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|Governor’s response to concerned citizens|
Here’s how this letter is misleading to the public.
Paragraph 1 –
Right out the gate he claims the non-toll lanes we drive on today will not be tolled. THIS IS FALSE! There is NO WAY they can lay 8 toll lanes in the current median without disturbing the lanes we drive on today. We’ve been to the public hearings and we have seen TxDOT’s plans. They are, in FACT, tolling our existing lanes! The new access roads they’re building will be the ONLY non-toll option. The non-toll lanes will NOT be in the same location (right of way) we currently drive on today for FREE, so it’s clear they’re tolling our existing FREEway leaving us only access roads as non-toll! TxDOT’s own internal presentation in 2003 (PDF file) shows they plan to force motorists onto tollways through limiting alternatives including slowing down the free lanes.
Paragraph 2 –
He justifies tolls by saying fuel efficiency means people drive without paying their fair share of gas tax. There have already been bills before Congress to tax alternatives fuels for this reason. Also, gas tax revenues (available on the Comptroller’s web site) from 1984-2004 have actually increased 178% while population has only increased 50% (and that’s adjusted for inflation). Also, no matter how you slice it, the more folks drive, the more gas they use and the more tax they pay. There’s a built in trigger for those who drive more, they automatically pay more.
Paragraph 3 –
It states $1 in local tolls is a dollar for local needs. How is that true when the Victoria Transit Policy Institute determines toll roads have a 25-35% average administration cost and then these public-private partnerships (CDAs) will take a guaranteed level of profit from the toll lanes? We don’t know the exact level of profit being guaranteed because they’re suing our government to keep this information from the public. I venture to guess it’s close to 45% of money from toll revenues will never be applied to local needs.
Paragraph 1 –
Prop 15 that he refers to that was passed in 2001 mentions toll roads as an OPTION, but nowhere does it tell the public that on Dec. 18, 2003 the Transportation Commission would pass a toll first mandate (if they can prove it viable, they’re going to toll it without considering other alternatives).
The exact wording of that proposition is:
“The constitutional amendment creating the Texas Mobility Fund and authorizing grants and loans of money and issuance of obligations for financing the construction, reconstruction, acquisition, operation, and expansion of state highways, turnpikes, toll roads, toll bridges, and other mobility projects.”
The voters passed this with 67% of the vote, and it was sold to them as allowing TxDOT to borrow future gas tax revenues in order to speed up highway projects (versus simply pay as you go funding). Nowhere is a toll-only mandate mentioned in that proposition. It’s disingenuous to say 67% of voters want toll roads! In fact, TxDOT’s own study by UT Austin shows over 70% of Texans are against the tolling of existing highways. The RMA’s recent survey by Baselice & Associates (which had very leading questions and even false information about the toll plans PDF file), still shows that over 70% of San Antonians want other options to pay for highway improvements other than tolls!
Paragraph 2 –
The free alternatives he mentions are frontage roads, not alternate highways like Houston and Dallas have. By the way, Dallas and Houston voters got to vote on those toll projects and keep all the money local, not so with this new power grab by TxDOT. Now even Dallas and Houston folks are upset at TxDOT’s bullying tactics. These cities are being told to use public-private agreements (CDAs) where the toll money goes to private, foreign corporations, not local needs! Read about it here.
Paragraph 3 –
The approach here seems straight from Governor-appointed Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson…it’s his famous quote, “It’s toll roads, slow roads, or no roads” (El Paso Times, May 5, 2004), reworded to make it seem more palatable. It’s toll it or you don’t get your improvements. They’re withholding funds from San Antonio and other cities unless they toll these projects. Where are all the gas tax revenues going? TxDOT’s own budget for 2004 shows not even 15% of their revenues going to road maintenance. It shows $1 billion for road maintenance out of a $6.1 billion budget. San Antonio only receives $100 million in gas tax revenue each year out of a $6.1 billion budget! In addition, all of us are forced to pay the cost of tolls through the increased cost of goods, so we truly don’t have a non-toll choice. We ALL pay!
Also, ALL motorists have paid gas taxes to build 281 and other planned toll projects. Every toll lane proposed uses some gas tax money to build it (MPO minutes prove it along with an article on WOAI’s web site that quotes Commissioner Lyle Larson) and yet we cannot drive on these roads without paying a double tax, a toll tax for our lifetimes! The December 1 Express-News article confirms, 93% of the 281 project is funded with gas tax money (the $6 million not paid for with gas tax is paid for by CPS utility company so rate payers still pay that cost) so what the Governor states in this letter is false. We can get our improvements without tolls, but now they’re tolling projects that are already paid for, too!
HB 2702 is the law he refers to that says they cannot toll existing highways with out a vote of the people. This is misleading since the law states the Transportation Commission can overrule any vote by finding that a toll project improves the mobility of the region. Plus, US 281 was declared a toll project prior to September 1, 2005. Of course, this the ONE time TxDOT dotted all their “i’s” and crossed all of their “t’s.”
See text below:
Portion of HB 2702 that addresses converting existing highways into toll roads – SECTION 2.36. Chapter 228, Transportation Code, is amended by adding Subchapter E to read as follows: SUBCHAPTER E. LIMITATION ON TOLL FACILITY DETERMINATION; CONVERSION OF NONTOLLED STATE HIGHWAY Sec. 228.201. LIMITATION ON TOLL FACILITY DESIGNATION. Except as provided by Section 228.2015, the department may not operate a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway as a toll project, and may not transfer a highway or segment to another entity for operation as a toll project, unless: (1) the commission by order designated the highway or segment as a toll project before the contract to construct the highway or segment was awarded; (2) the highway or segment was open to traffic as a turnpike project on or before September 1, 2005; (3) the project was designated as a toll project in a plan or program of a metropolitan planning organization on or before September 1, 2005; (4) the highway or segment is reconstructed so that the number of nontolled lanes on the highway or segment is greater than or equal to the number in existence before the reconstruction; (5) a facility is constructed adjacent to the highway or segment so that the number of nontolled lanes on the converted highway or segment and the adjacent facility together is greater than or equal to the number in existence on the converted highway or segment before the conversion; or (6) the commission converts the highway or segment to a toll facility by: (A) making the determination required by Section 228.202; (B) conducting the hearing required by Section 228.203; and (C) obtaining county and voter approval as required by Sections 228.207 and 228.208. Sec. 228.2015. LIMITATION TRANSITION. (a) Notwithstanding Section 228.201, the department may operate a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway as a toll project if: (1) a construction contract was awarded for the highway or segment before September 1, 2005; (2) the highway or segment had not at any time before September 1, 2005, been open to traffic; and (3) the commission designated the highway or segment as a toll project before the earlier of: (A) the date the highway or segment is opened to traffic; or (B) September 1, 2005. (b) This section expires September 1, 2006. SECTION 2.37. Section 362.0041, Transportation Code, is transferred to Subchapter E, Chapter 228, Transportation Code, redesignated as Sections 228.202-228.208, and amended to read as follows: Sec. 228.202 [362.0041 ]. COMMISSION DETERMINATION [CONVERSION OF PROJECTS ]. The [(a) Except as provided in Subsections (d) and (g), the ] commission may by order convert a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway [the free state highway system ] to a toll project [facility ] if it determines that the conversion will improve overall mobility in the region or is the most feasible and economic means to accomplish necessary expansion, improvements, or extensions to that segment of the state highway system.