Thursday, March 01, 2007

"The situation here simply amounts to a budget shell game."

Highway shouldn’t have any toll roads

March 1, 2007

By Yvonne Mintz
The Facts (Brazoria County, TX)
Copyright 2007

State highway department officials wanted to make sure people who attended a meeting on the proposed Highway 288 expansion knew the existing lanes of the highway would not be tolled when the new pay-to-drive lanes open up down the center, so they posted a sign in big, bold letters just inside the door.

We would like to make our message equally clear: DON’T TOLL ANY LANES ON 288.

We understood all along that existing lanes on Highway 288 will remain free for drivers, and while we wholeheartedly support the expansion of this vital corridor for Brazoria County’s growth and mobility, we adamantly oppose inclusion of any toll lanes in the plan.

Current plans are for new lanes to be built in what now is a grassy median to be tolled from Highway 59 in downtown Houston to CR 60 near Iowa Colony. The expansion is projected to add six lanes to the existing four. The new lanes will be tolled by using an electronic tolling system much like the EZ Tag used in Harris County’s toll system.

Construction on the new lanes could begin in 2010 and be finished by 2014.

As we’ve said before, we might see the wisdom in a toll system here if the funds were used to pay off construction and then tolling ceased. Or if in exchange for charging us to use this roadway our taxes would decrease elsewhere. Or if this were a new roadway where the main reason for construction was convenience, such as Beltway 8 in Houston or the proposed Grand Parkway expansion.

None of those scenarios are true for Highway 288, however. The situation here simply amounts to a budget shell game whereby the state can keep its current spending level, get more projects on the books and still claim to have held the line on taxes.

What’s more disturbing is officials have told us we should expect all “new” road projects to be funded this way.

Brazoria County residents have until March 9 to comment on the proposal, and we urge our neighbors to make their voices heard on the future of Brazoria County’s main artery to Houston.

This editorial was written by Yvonne Mintz, managing editor for The Facts.

© 2007 he Facts.

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