Wednesday, March 09, 2011

“This is my kind of bill.”

NTTA chairman opposes bill to require toll roads to become free roads once bonds are paid


Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2011

The chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority told Texas senators Wednesday that a bill to eliminate permanent toll roads would stop highway-building in North Texas.

“Tolling is the only way we are getting any roads built at this point in time,” Victor Vandergriff told the Senate transportation committee. “Funding from the state of Texas is not available for roads.”

His testimony came as the committee considered a bill by Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, that would require toll roads to become free roads once their bonds had been paid off.
That would put a stop to so-called system financing, the standard method that NTTA uses to fund new roads.

By pledging revenues from its entire system, the agency can secure more money and better terms than it could if it tried to persuade lenders to give money based only on the projected revenues from a new road.

Throughout its history, NTTA has taken profits from one road and used them to support debt on a new road. In doing so, it does not have to wait to build a new road until the traffic it would generate is sufficient by itself to support construction and operations.

Vandergriff said the Ogden bill could put at risk billions of dollars in roads that are under way and billions more that are planned in the near future.

“It could also chill the bond markets,” he added.

Anti-toll advocates embraced the Ogden bill.

“This is my kind of bill,” said Terri Hall of Texas TURF, a grassroots organization that has been fighting toll roads, especially private toll roads. “We are totally opposed to system financing.”

Vandergriff admitted he agreed philosophically with the Ogden proposal. He recalled that his father, former Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff, lobbied to create Texas’ first toll road in 1953 and, 24 years later, urged lawmakers to retire the tolls on what is now Interstate 30. He died Dec. 30.

“He spoke clearly about the dangers of tolling or system financing, and of his fears that it would be a drug that the state and Metroplex would continue” to rely on, Vandergriff said.

But he said passage of the bill would essentially stop road-building in North Texas, where nearly all major projects have been toll roads, many relying on system financing.

Hall noted that the Texas Constitution forbids “monopolies and perpetuities,” two words she said describe toll authorities.

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