Friday, March 16, 2007

"A groundswell seems to be developing in Texas against the privatization of toll roads."

Nichols fights private roads

March 16, 2007

By Jim Goodson, Editor
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN – A groundswell seems to be developing in Texas against the privatization of toll roads. And State Senator Robert Nichols is a key leader of the fight.

Nichols has filed SB 1267, which would place a two-year moratorium on the privatization of toll roads. Companion SB 1268 prohibits converting existing roads to toll roads – a fight many voters thought they’d already won.

Under current law an existing road can still be converted to a toll road even though many have regional or statewide use.

“These roads were built with public money for public use,” Nichols said March 6 when the bill was filed. “Converting existing roads to toll roads would break a promise to taxpayers. No one should have to worry that the roads they drive on today will be tolled tomorrow.”

SB 1267 would establish a moratorium on the privatization of toll roads or the sale of existing toll roads to private interests, including those roads planned as part of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Nichols conceded that toll roads allow the state to build more roads faster without raising fuel or other taxes. But since most companies require at least a 50-year contract to operate and collect tolls, Nichols said decisions are being hastily made that will impact taxpayers for the next half-century.

Companies seeking toll road contracts are also asking for and receiving “non-compete” clauses that preclude the state or anyone else from building a similar road nearby.

“The state is enacting a policy that will force Texans to drove on toll roads with very few alternatives for the next 50 years,” Nichols said. “In high-growth areas, the private toll operator will be free to increase tolls as demand for the road increases. New road construction by the state would be penalized, thereby setting up a classic monopoly, agreed to by the state, forcing Texans to pay ever-increasing tolls.

“There should be incentives to relieve congestion, not penalties.”

Nichols is a former Texas Transportation Commissioner who has supported toll roads in the past.

“However, supporting toll roads does not equate to supporting a plan that prohibits competition or agreeing to policies that enrich a few shareholders at the expense of the taxpayer.”

SB 1267 has received widespread, including the backing of CorridorWatch, an organization of taxpayers that monitors the construction of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

© 2007 Jacksonville Daily Progress:

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