Friday, December 07, 2007

"If dollars are getting siphoned to other needs, when, if ever, will they pay for the highway in question?"

Toll-road shakedown

December 07, 2007

The Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2007

Anyone whose feet are set in concrete against toll roads is going to get run over.

Toll roads are here. They are coming. The need is undeniable, as is the rationale in many cases.

But you can’t defend toll roads in every instance, and the proposed I-35 toll lanes through Waco sound indefensible.

Two concerns present themselves immediately — one about Waco’s self-interest and one about fairness to motorists.

First, the provincial concern: The proposed self-contained toll lanes would deliver a lot of travelers through Waco without access and egress to take advantage of what the city offers, even if it’s restroom breaks.

Second, that matter of fairness. The tolls as proposed would not just pay for I-35’s expansion but to other metro highway needs.

As acute as those needs are, it is unfair to assess a toll to motorists who won’t ever use those other highways. A toll road ought to pay for itself, and when that deed is done, the toll booths should go away.

That’s another question. If dollars are getting siphoned to other needs, when, if ever, will they pay for the highway in question?

The toll lanes would adhere to one feature that all toll roads should in Texas: No one should have to drive on a toll road without an alternative.

Of course, that is one problem with toll roads that have alternatives, like the Trans-Texas Corridor proposed. The major agents of modern-day interstate congestion, trucks, wouldn’t be using optional toll lanes, just as they wouldn’t use the TTC. That’s an added cost truckers don’t wish to bear.

These issues raise anew the outrage that is Texas’ inability, despite its immense wealth and growing economy, to keep ahead of highway needs.

Texas’ highway fund is rife for pilfering by the transportation bureaucracy. Texas lawmakers are deer in the headlights on such issues as raising the gasoline tax — a smart move that would have highway users, including out-of-state visitors, funding the highways they wear down under their wheels.

We are told that a host of regional highway needs are to be frozen because federal funds have dried up, needed for areas such as military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is untenable for crucial needs to be outstripped by growth when this nation and this state have the resources to meet them. If changing that means higher taxes, then at least those taxes are a broadly shared burden.

Toll roads have a role in Texas’ future. But all toll roads are not created equal.

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