Thursday, September 20, 2007

"Maybe they will listen better in Washington DC to public input than they do in Austin."

State seeks to place tolls on interstate highways


By Frank Summers, County Judge
The Cameron Herald
Copyright 2007

Just when you think, you have heard it all something else pops up. I have stated my opinion on the state's effort to utilize tolls as the future funding for highways in Texas. Just in case you missed it, I oppose the idea of tolls being the primary source of funding for state highways.

I need to clarify my opposition by stating I am not so much opposed to new toll roads, but rather the idea of tolling existing roads. A large portion of the price for a gallon of gas goes to the state and federal folks for highway maintenance. The roads are paid for and to toll any portion of them now would be further taxing of the citizens of Texas.

I was upset when it came to my attention that the state is currently working on a plan to place tolls on Interstate highways. That is right, I-35, I-10 and others could all become pay to drive roads in the future if the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) has its way. To top it off it has been pretty much a secret.

A report, entitled Forward Momentum, a Report to the 110th Congress, makes several recommendations to Congress on how best to upgrade the nation's highway system. One section of the report is particularly disturbing.

The section titled Tolling Authority EXPANSION discusses ways that Congress could allow Texas to charge tolls on existing Interstate highways. Included in the report are Interstates 10, 35 and 27.

Federal law generally prohibits imposing tolls on interstate highways for which federal funds have been used. Too bad, we do not have state laws like that in Texas. The report goes on to state that in some instances Congress has enacted specific legislation to allow states to “buy back,” or reimburse the federal government. This reimbursement relieves that section of highway from the prohibition of tolls.

So now TXDOT, or whoever wants to spend state tax dollars to buy back federal highways that your federal tax money already paid for. Then the state wants you to pay tolls on roads that you will have literally already paid for twice. Just does not make sense to me.

We are supposed to have conservative representation in Austin. Someone will have to explain to me how asking the people of Texas to pay for roads twice can be called conservative. To add insult to injury they then want to make Texans pay tolls to drive on the same roads that we will already have paid for twice.

While this may sound far fetched, like science fiction or a bad dream TXDOT representatives have confirmed the language of the report. Depending on what Congress does, this scenario could become reality

The real punch line to this whole situation is that TXDOT representatives have stressed that any tolling would not be done without the consent of local officials and the public. Who do they think they are kidding? We see how well they have handled public input on the Trans Texas Corridor.

I also wonder where TXDOT is coming from when they brag on the Government Accountability Office citing Texas as a leader in using toll roads to “reduce congestion.” The whole toll road pitch has been that tolls would go to pay for the construction of badly needed highways and repair of existing roads.

It all started out with the idea that tolls be levied only on new roads, never on existing roads. Now we have gone to well maybe existing roads with your consent. Bottom line is that the move by TXDOT and the Governor to further tax the citizens of this state is moving forward.

Take the time to call your Washington DC representatives and let them know that we have paid for these roads once. We do not need to buy them again. Maybe they will listen better in Washington DC to public input than they do in Austin.

© 2007 The Cameron Herald:

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