Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Greater Waco residents should never have been pushed into such a lose-lose predicament."

Waco toll lanes a devil's choice

January 15, 2008

Waco Tribune-Herald
Copyright 2008

Greater Waco residents have until 5 p.m. today to submit their comments about a proposal to build two toll lanes on Interstate 35 through Waco.

The offer to accept public comments on the proposed toll lanes through Waco amount to a devil’s choice.

Either way, you lose.

On one hand the choice is to support the toll lanes. In that case, there will be a heavy flow of traffic through Waco on I-35 that will never stop to eat, shop, fill up with gas or sight-see.

The proposal calls for toll lanes along the 13-mile stretch between South Loop 340 and Elm Mott. There will be no on-ramps or off-ramps along the proposed toll lanes.

All that the Waco truck stops, gas stations, restaurants, businesses and tourist attractions will see of these toll-lane motorists who have paid to avoid Waco will be their exhaust fumes.

Waco would earn the dubious distinction of having the only section of I-35 in Texas that charges motorists to avoid the city.

On the other hand, the other choice is to oppose the proposed toll lanes.

Should that side prevail, the result will be more congestion and gridlock along I-35 through Waco, which would be a frustrating inconvenience for Greater Waco residents as well as for all the other truckers and motorists who depend on I-35 for their transportation needs.

Greater Waco residents should never have been pushed into such a lose-lose predicament.

Federal and state transportation taxes should pay for the construction and maintenance of the public’s transportation needs.

Texas Department of Transportation officials announced last year that there would be no money to add capacity to the state’s road system after 2008. They blamed the funding crisis on rising construction costs, federal cutbacks, state diversions of gas tax revenues and new restrictions on private investment in toll road projects.

Due to the lack of transportation funds, the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization felt forced to cut 13 of its 23 highway expansion proposals in McLennan County. The toll lanes would be a way to generate enough money to pay for up to 40 percent of the funding to expand the highway to eight lanes through Waco. State transportation officials say they have enough money to pay for the remaining 60 percent.

The federal government collects transportation taxes from all the states and then doles out highway funds back to the states. Some states get more than they paid in. Texas gets less.

Congress members earmark transportation funds for projects unrelated to building and maintaining highways.

On the state level, lawmakers also dip into transportation funds to pay for unrelated projects and to help balance the budget.

The transportation funding crisis that has ensnared Waco is largely a self-inflicted disorder. There should be other choices rather than just yes or no to two bad choices.

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