Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Your state tax money would 'buy back' highways your federal tax money already paid for, so the state could charge you tolls to drive on that highway"


Secret TxDOT Plan to Toll Existing Interstates

Internal report to Congress, obtained by 1200 WOAI news, urges Congress to 'repeal' laws prohibiting tolling Interstates

August 29, 2007

By Jim Forsyth
KQXT FM (San Antonio)
The New Q101.9
Clear Channel Communications, Inc.
Copyright 2007

At the same time local officials assure us that tolls will 'never' be charged for traveling on existing highway lanes, 1200 WOAI news has obtained a Texas Transportation Commission report in which TxDOT officials discuss ways to impose tolls on existing interstate highways.

The report, entitled 'Forward Momentum, a Report to the 110th Congress,' makes several recommendations to Congress on how best to upgrade the state's highway system.

One section, entitled "Tolling Authority EXPANSION" (the capital letters are included in the report), discusses strategies Congress could use to allow Texas to charge tolls on existing Interstate highways, including Interstates 10, 35, and 27.

"Federal law generally prohibits imposing tolls on interstate highways for which federal funds have been used," the report reads on page 11. "In several situations, however, Congress has enacted specific legislation to allow states to 'buy back,' or re-imburse the federal government, for federal funds applies to a highway segment, thereby relieving it of the prohibition against tolls."

That's right. Your state tax money would be used to 'buy back' highways your federal tax money has already paid for, so the state could charge you tolls to drive on that highway.

Chris Lippencott of TxDOT confirms the language in the report, but stresses that any tolling would not be done without the consent of local officials and the public.

"Even if the Congress allowed states to purchase back parts of the interstate, state law would still be in effect, and it would require TxDOT to seek the approval of not only a county's Commissioners Court, but also the voters in that county, before we tolled existing lanes," Lippencott said.

So we've gone from 'existing lanes will never be tolled,' to 'existing lanes might be tolled with your consent.'

The TxDOT report proposes that 'restrictions on tolling programs' be removed, to 'give states such as Texas, as many opportunities as possible for new funding alternatives.'

The report suggests that if Congress 'authorizes states to implement interstate tolling options beyond current pilot programs' it would 'allow revenues from toll-financed facilities to be used for other critical system needs.'

"I'm not a political guru, but I would suggest to you that the likelihood of an existing lane being turned into a toll lane is pretty slim," Lippencott said.

The TxDOT also brags that the Government Accountability Office has 'cited Texas (and Governor Perry specifically) as a leader in using tolls to "reduce congestion")' Texans are being told that tolls would be collected to build badly needed highways, not to 'reduce congestion.'

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