Monday, February 02, 2009

"Toll roads and privatization suck mud."

Senate leader ranks higher gas taxes over more tolling


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, sized up the Legislature's milieu of transportation options this session and has decided that toll roads and privatization suck mud.
John Carona

In a two-page letter he sent to fellow lawmakers today, Carona ranked the choices, starting with the most desirable:

1. Stop diverting gas-tax funds and other driving fees to non-transportation uses.

2. Scrub the Texas Department of Transportation and cut jobs.

3. Index the 20-cent per gallon gas tax to inflation.

4. Issue all allowable debt, such as $5 billion in road bonds approved by voters in 2007.

Those options have widespread support, including an endorsement by the Texas Metro Chambers, which represents businesses in the state's eight largest cities, to raise the gas tax and scuttle the diversions, Carona said.

Such measures would also reduce reliance on, though not eliminate the need for, less efficient and unpopular:

5. Toll roads.

6. Private investments.

7. Leasing toll roads to private firms.

"The obvious solution, therefore, is to fix the glaring transportation problems we face with those most workable approaches so that the benefits they provide can be realized and not lost," Carona said in his letter.

Carona also cast a wary eye on proposals to let toll rates rise and fall with congestion levels, use gas-tax dollars to guarantee toll bonds and invest state pension funds into road building.

He gave nods to letting local governments ask voters to increase their own taxes and fees for transportation, and embracing new technologies in energy and mass transit.

The main thing, he said, is that the options weave together, each affecting the others. So it makes sense to integrate this session's transportation legislation.

"In truth, none of these options is easy, but failure to act demonstrates mismanagement," the senator said.


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