"Leave existing interstate highway lanes alone."
San Antonio Express-News
Tolling existing interstate highway lanes is not the right move for Texas.
The Texas Department of Transportation has asked Congress to grant the state the right to "buy back" federally financed highways so they can be tolled through state partnerships with private companies.
U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas have expressed their opposition to such a plan.
"Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway, and I will fight any such efforts," Hutchison said recently.
In this, the toll opponents have it right. It makes more sense to use tolls to build new lanes that will ease traffic congestion.
In the case of U.S. 281, for example, additional toll lanes north of Loop 1604 would create a viable alternative to the thickening gridlock familiar to many.
The Federal Highway Administration recently approved an environmental study that paves the way for adding six to eight toll lanes, replacing the existing highway with access roads and adding merging and turning lanes to a 71/2-mile stretch.
There would still be no-pay lanes for people who choose not to pay the toll.
The Alamo Regional Mobility Authority has taken the right stance on the issue, saying tolling of roads should not preclude consumer choice by eliminating non-toll alternatives.
"If we add a new lane and add more choice to the roadway, we will pursue tolling of only those new lanes," not existing highway lanes, RMA Board Chairman Bill Thornton said.
Tolling of roads — as well as other transportation alternatives — should always be an option, particularly as communities find themselves confronted by population growth and road congestion.
But officials can't lose sight of the ultimate litmus test: What is best for the people of Texas?
In this case, toll proponents should leave existing interstate highway lanes alone.
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