Friday, November 16, 2007

"Raise taxes? That's crazy. But that's exactly what toll roads are all about – consumption taxes. "

Community Opinions

Time for a TollTag revolt

'Maybe we'll have a colonial tea party at Lake Lewisville'

November 16, 2007

DUANE GREEN of Little Elm
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

After living in and driving around Little Elm for the last five years, I have recently assigned a pejorative meaning to a couple of four-letter words in my vocabulary: toll road.

Little Elm and Frisco are among the fastest growing communities in North Texas. Little Elm has grown from a population of 3,600 in 2000 to almost 23,000 today. That's almost 20,000 new residents over the last seven years and hardly a square inch of new roadways.

As a result, if I want to leave the cozy confines of the 75068 zip code, I can count on two things: traffic jams and toll roads – and frequently both at once. Why haven't the roadways kept up with the growth?

I read recently that during a recent Little Elm Town Hall meeting, state Rep. Myra Crownover told residents that Austin is aware of our traffic problems but can't provide immediate relief. Duh. Nearly every news story about the roadways in North Texas includes some mention of how the state gasoline tax, a primary source for highway construction funding, does not generate enough revenue to fund the necessary road improvements in Texas.

So, absent any other transportation strategy, the answer has increasingly been to build toll roads. And more toll roads.

Since our community is at the northern edge of the metroplex, if I want to visit the big city, it's almost mandatory to drive the Dallas North Tollway, President George Bush Turnpike or the State Highway 121 toll road. There is some good news: In 2009, we'll get some relief in the form of the Lewisville Lake Bridge. Oops, make that the Lewisville Lake toll bridge.

I guess my MasterCard isn't the only piece of plastic I can't leave home without these days.

So when is enough enough? If the state cannot generate enough highway funds from the current gasoline tax, maybe it's time to raise the tax to a level that supports our transportation needs.

Raise taxes? That's crazy. But that's exactly what toll roads are all about – consumption taxes. And I am tired of being taxed twice – once at the pump, the second time at the toll plaza. I rarely even see, let alone drive on Interstate 30, Interstate 20, Central Expressway, State Highway 114 or State Highway 183. But I'm sure as heck being taxed for those roads.

The current state gasoline tax of 20 cents per gallon hasn't increased in nearly two decades. Anybody wanna guess what a first-class postage stamp cost in 1991? Answer: 29 cents. A stamp costs 41 cents today, an increase of 41 percent.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation rates over the same period mean that what you could buy for $100 in 1991 costs $153 today. So that 20-cent tax is actually worth less than a dime in today's dollars.

I think the Legislature should raise the tax to at least 25 cents per gallon. That's an extra dollar on a 20-gallon fillup. Fill up four times a month, and it will cost you $4 more. I paid $4 just to get to downtown Dallas the other day.

I don't know if a 25 percent increase would actually meet our current highway construction needs (probably not even close), but it's a start.

But I have not heard a single elected official mention this as a viable option. Why? Our elected officials have no problem asking us to pay more for education, corrections, public safety or sports stadiums. Likewise, many towns issue bonds to pay for surface street repairs and new construction. But there is no mention anywhere about finding a better, more equitable way to fund our highways.

I recall some boring history lesson during elementary school about a bunch of colonists rallying around what they considered to be an unfair tax policy in the late 1700s. These folks dumped some 45 tons of tea into Boston harbor to protest.

Perhaps if a few like-minded colonists in Little Elm, Frisco and surrounding communities would engage in a similar protest – this time casting our TollTags into Lake Lewisville – we might catch the attention of the biennial residents down in the 78701 zip code.

If there isn't some relief in sight soon, I may start focusing on two different four-letter words: Move away.

Duane Green of Little Elm is an account manager for a translation services company and a Community Voices volunteer columnist. His e-mail address is dua

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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