Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Gov. Rick Perry and his appointees in TxDOT are stuck in a 'something for nothing' mode on funding highways."

Highways' future up on cinderblocks

April 15, 2007

The Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2007

Toward meeting its gargantuan highway needs, Texas is going nowhere fast.

The Texas House of Representatives last week resoundingly approved a two-year moratorium on toll-road projects, with the exception of key North Texas toll roads.

The moratorium is necessary to get a handle on the costs of these projects, particularly the Trans-Texas Corridor. A state auditor’s report recently questioned hidden and inflated costs in the state’s 50-year contract with Spanish firm Cintra-Zachary.

A host of questions have been raised about the deal brokered by the Texas Department of Transportation. Inquiring minds have had to go to court. Even Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has cited his own inability to see the details about this monster endeavor.

Gov. Rick Perry and his appointees in TxDOT are stuck in a “something for nothing” mode on funding highways. We sell the rights to major infrastructure and pay for it with tolls.

To hear Perry and TxDOT Commissioner Ric Williamson say it, brawny, booming, prosperous Texas has no other way to pay for it.


State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, proposed an alternative in the last legislative session: Raise the motor fuels tax by a nickel a gallon.

A gasoline tax does what the toll road does. It taxes users to pay for roads. (By law, a portion of the gasoline tax also goes to schools.)

No one wants to pay more for gasoline, more than Texans are paying for their highways through the gasoline tax. So do motorists from other states. So do Mexican trucks.

The Trib recently reported comments of truckers who say they studiously avoid toll roads like the Trans-Texas Corridor if free alternatives exist. So don’t expect the TTC to get their money or relieve their congestion.

Should Texas have toll roads? Absolutely. It needs a mix of funding options for its highway needs, including bonds. But with this Legislature and this governor, we are trying to get comfortable on a one-legged stool.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, a foe of too-heavy reliance on toll roads, has an alternative: indexing the gasoline tax. The state has options — to index it to inflation, or to the rising cost of highway construction, which is considerably higher.

Carona wants to cap annual gas-tax increases at around 4.5 percent a year.

The Legislature is right to put a moratorium on toll roads. But it is wrong to not have an alternative to getting the state moving again.

© 2007 The Waco Tribune-Herald:

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