Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Our message has been 'Don't toll roads that are already paid for' and that will be our message."

Toll road plans received with little enthusiasm

TIP needs more funding; Texas Toll Party opposes incurring new surcharges


By Tyler Sandson
The Daily Texan
Copyright 2007

Plans for the construction of more toll roads proposed in Phase 2 of the Transportation Improvement Program were met with criticism and strong oppositions at Monday night's meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. The plan calls for additional tolling to fund road maintenance and the construction of new highways.

The additional funding couldn't come sooner, said Bruce Byron, executive director of the Capital Area Transportation Coalition. With reallocation of taxes and revenue, funding for transportation gets "the short end of the stick," Byron said. "It has taken 20 years to build 183 and 290, because you can only build as fast as you have the money."

Despite the resistance to the extra taxing and additional toll roads, Byron feels that the changes are crucial to the healthy development of Austin's transportation.

"I feel that if the average person understood why we transition to toll roads, we wouldn't receive so much opposition," he said.

The plan to mend the $10 billion funding shortfall is to raise the gas tax 3 cents in addition to the installation of tollbooths on parts of U.S. 183, U.S. 290, Texas 71 and Interstate Highway 45 Southwest. If either of these plans are not approved, the funding shortfall will indefinitely increase, said Steve Pastelmick, a member of the Coalition.

The program proposes to establish tolls on existing highways in East and Southwest Austin, some in the form of managed lanes, which are similar to HOV lanes. Many individuals and groups went to show their objection to the proposal, among them the Texas Toll Party, a political action committee against the tolling of pre-existing highways.

The rally was very successful, claims Sal Costello, founder of the Texas Toll Party, the major opposing party at the rally. The committee delayed voting on the proposition until summer, now treating it as a separate entity from Phase 2 of the program.

The group claims that if the roads are already paid for, the resulting revenue is unaccounted for.

"Our message has been 'Don't toll roads that are already paid for' and that will be our message," Costello said.

Alternatives to tolling are currently being researched.

© 2007 The Daily Texan: