Friday, August 31, 2007

"I don't think you can trust the agencies that are trying to toll our roads at this point. You can't believe a word they say."

"Outrage" is Reaction to 1200 WOAI News Toll Exclusive

Local, state officials vow never to allow TxDOT to toll existing highways

August 31, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
1200 WOAI
Copyright 2007

Reaction to the 1200 WOAI news exclusive report Thursday that the Texas Department of Transportation has a secret plan to turn all of the state's Interstate highways into toll roads has been immediate and statewide, with 'outrage' being the least impolite word that is being heard to describe the reaction of officials and lawmakers.

"I was disappointed to be once again blind sided in having to learn about this idea through the media, instead of from TxDOT," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, one of several local officials who has been assuring citizens that existing roads would 'never' be tolled. The entire officials 1200 WOAI news spoke with said they had never heard of the TxDOT memo until 1200 WOAI's report brought it to their attention yesterday.

"Going back and trying to toll already existing highways, in this case interstates, is outrageous," Senator John Corona, (D-Dallas), chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said when asked about the 1200 WOAI news report. "People have already paid for that."

The 1200 WOAI news exclusive has now been copied by newspapers across the state.

Joe Krier, President of the Greater Chamber of Commerce and a leader in the toll road battle, said he had never heard about the report until 1200 WOAI news brought it to his attention, but it doesn't change his basic support for toll roads.

"If other people have a better way to fund these roads in the short term, we'd be glad to hear it," Krier said.

But toll road opponents jumped on the 1200 WOAI news report as evidence that TxDOT 'cannot be trusted.'

"They want to shift all of our current highways into tollways, and double tax us for the rest of our lives," said Terri Hall of TexasTURF, an anti toll road group.

"You can't trust them," Hall said. "One minute they're telling you, 'no, we have no intention of tolling existing roads,' and then the next minute they're sending reports to Congress asking for that very thing. I don't think you can trust the agencies that are trying to toll our roads at this point. You can't believe a word they say."

The internal memo suggests that Texas state tax dollars could be used to 'buy back' the toll roads from the federal government, getting around a federal law that prohibits putting tolls on roads paid for with federal dollars. Not only would tolls then be collected on existing Interstates, but the companies that would collect the tolls would get tax breaks from Texas taxpayers.

"The deception of going back and trying to toll already existing, already paid for highways is wrong headed," Carona told 1200 WOAI news.

Many local officials pointed to state laws which prohibit any tolls being added to existing roads without a vote of the local county commissioners court, and the voters.

"That TxDOT would now pursue the tolling of existing interstate lanes is unwise, unreasonable, and poor public policy," Wolff said.

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