Friday, August 31, 2007

Sen. Hutchison: "Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway, and I will fight any such efforts."

Hutchison wants to ban tolls on Texas's interstates

Hutchison wants to block Texas from levying fees on U.S. highways

Aug. 31, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, considered a possible future contender for Texas governor, said Friday she's filing a bill to ban states from converting existing interstate highways into toll roads.

Hutchison, joining objections of bipartisan lawmakers in Austin and Washington, said she will "vigorously" block the Texas Department of Transportation from ever levying tolls on federal highways.

"I intend to immediately introduce as free-standing legislation my amendment that the Senate passed in 2005 to specifically prohibit states from tolling existing interstate highways," the Republican said in a prepared statement.

Earlier this year, Texas transportation officials sent a letter to Congress seeking a change in federal law to let states "buy back" interstate highways and levy tolls on them.

Such a tolling plan, under a state law passed in 2005, would require a vote of county commissioners and local voters.

Texas' other U.S. senator, fellow Republican John Cornyn, concurred with Hutchison.

"I think it's a bad idea, and I don't support it," he said Friday in an interview.

Gov. Rick Perry, a big proponent of toll roads, has said he opposes tolling existing roadways unless local voters want them.

Hutchison and U.S. Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, said Friday they'll oppose the state's effort to change federal law.

"Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway, and I will fight any such efforts," Hutchison said reacting to news reports detailing TxDOT's federal legislative agenda, "Forward Momentum."

Gonzalez issued a statement calling the initiative an "alarming proposal" that he said would place an "unnecessary fiscal burden" on citizens.

Agency spokesman Chris Lippincott defended the plan this week as a solution to an estimated $86 billion shortfall in needed highway funding for Texas.

Lippincott said charging tolls on interstate highways would help clear congested roadways and lead to cleaner air.

Yet, state Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, predicted state lawmakers will never allow such a toll system.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, also registered objections, saying the nation is in serious trouble if it has to sell off its highway infrastructure, especially to private companies which TxDOT proposes could manage resulting toll roads.

"It's crazy," she said. "It's just taxation upon taxation upon taxation."

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