Monday, October 08, 2007

"The proposed toll plan would create a two-tiered system of roadways where those who can afford it will have the 'choice' to access the fast lane"


Why I'm voting for toll roads

October 08, 2007

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

Toll roads are a looming reality. We can no longer solely rely on state or federal government money for all of the funds needed to build our transportation systems. Though tolling is extolled by some as the silver bullet to solve our traffic issues in our region, I vigorously oppose funding our regional transportation needs with market-based tolling.

However, I believe that some form of tolling will pass tonight at the Capital Area Metropolican Planning Organization transportation board meeting. I could vote "no" on principle and watch inequitable, inefficient and unaccountable tax policy be made and implemented despite my vote. Or I can fight to address the problems in the transportation implementation plan and ensure that the generated revenue is distributed as equitably as possible.

I choose the latter.

Aside from the often discussed inefficiencies of tolls relative to gas taxes, the toll road plan as proposed presents serious problems of inequity that we can, and must, address.

The proposed toll plan would create a two-tiered system of roadways where those who can afford it will have the "choice" to access the fast lane and the rest of us will go slow on the same, inadequate road system we currently share equally.

Those who make the "choice" will easily be paying five times more in transportation taxes than commuters of similar wealth who do not have a toll road stretched between the home and place of work. This "use tax" can be diverted from the toll road on which it was charged to other transportation projects (likely, other toll roads) in the CAMPO region, enabling a dangerous dependence on toll taxes and solo car travel.

So whether you are rich or poor and wherever you live, the toll plan as proposed has an inequity for you.

We have an opportunity to address these issues head-on and blunt the most negative aspects of the proposed toll plan.

I am offering an amendment to lock down the revenue generated from a toll project to the corridor in which the tolls are collected. The amendment would limit the use of any revenue beyond construction, maintenance and operation costs to improving the non-tolled options in and around the toll project and to public transit serving the same commuter population.

Under these amendments, the toll tax will go away when the construction debt is retired.

In addition, other CAMPO board members and I are offering amendments to require non-tolled access for rapid bus, van pools and car pools on all toll roads. We would require the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) — not the Texas Department of Transportation — to operate these toll roads. And we would require the toll roads to remain in public hands and be operated in accord with the will of the people of Central Texas.

Through these amendments, we, as a region, can make the investment so desperately needed for multiple forms of transportation in highly congested corridors. These efforts will increase equity and transportation options for the businesses and residents most burdened by intolerable congestion and the additional tolls necessary to address it.

It is imperative that we make an up-front commitment to lock down the toll revenue. Otherwise the desperate funding measure that the vast majority in our region recognizes as inferior to gas tax funding will become an unshakeable addiction leading to greater inefficiency, inequity and car dependence.

I believe there is a majority on the CAMPO Policy Advisory Board to make such a commitment. If so, today I will vote for tolling on intolerably congested roads that have no other funding options available for their improvement. And tomorrow I will still be fighting like hell for an efficient, equitable and accountable transportation system throughout Central Texas.

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