"A groundswell seems to be developing in Texas against the privatization of toll roads."
March 16, 2007
By Jim Goodson, Editor
Jacksonville Daily Progress
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.
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