Abbott, Patrick: 'No more tolls'

Abbott, Patrick tame rogue highway department, scrap toll projects
By Terri Hall
November 17, 2017

It’s not very often that the lowly taxpayer gets a win this big, but it finally came. After 12 years of wrangling over toll roads, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick came to the rescue issuing a final decree ending toll roads in Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) ignited a taxpayer revolt when it proposed 15 new toll projects as part of the update to its ten year plan — the Unified Transportation Plan (UTP). Not only did TxDOT try to railroad a litany of toll projects, it adopted a plan to use Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds that are constitutionally protected from going to toll projects to finance the US 183 toll project in Austin.

Abbott campaigned on the promise of fixing Texas roads without raising taxes, fees, debt or tolls. He reiterated his position in his first State of the State address in 2015 as well as when he announced his Texas Clear Lanes initiative that was to focus funding on the state’s most congested roads.

Should voters promote pro-toll Burkett to senator?

Burkett wants highest possible toll taxes for constituents
By Terri Hall
November 9, 2017

With Cindy Burkett throwing her hat in the ring in an attempt to unseat grassroots conservative stalwart Senator Bob Hall, the voters of Texas Senate District 2 need to know about her record. Burkett was quick to support selling off Interstate 635 E to the highest bidder using a controversial toll contract known in Texas as a comprehensive development agreement (or CDA) that gives control of our public roads to private toll companies.

Interstate 635 toll lanes from I-35E to the Dallas North Tollway are already operated by Spain-based Cintra. Commuters in the Metroplex face paying upwards of $24/day in tolls to this foreign corporation just to get to work, and no elected official has any control over how high those toll rates can go. Burkett wants that tax burden to extend to commuters in her own district from US 75 to I-30.

OUTRAGEOUS: MoPac tolls top $8 to use toll lanes in rush hour

Link to article here.

Tolls top $8 for commute on newly opened MoPac toll lanes

By Terri Hall
Ocotber 24, 2017

It didn’t take long for toll rates to exceed affordability. The newly opened toll managed lanes on MoPac (from Lady Bird Lake to Parmer Lane) in Austin topped $8 to go 11 miles, and cost $6.28 to drive the northern 6 miles during the evening commute. That’s just in the first week of operation. If you think that’s insane, that’s because it is. No one should have to pay over $1 a mile to get to or from work in a reasonable time. Texans pay a litany of road taxes, primarily the gasoline tax, to pay for public highways. Twice in as many years, Texas voters gave the largest boost in road funding to the state highway fund — totaling nearly $5 billion more per year. Yet supercharged toll roads continue to come online virtually unabated.

Toll managed lanes like those on MoPac use congestion pricing. The toll you pay no longer relates to the actual cost of building the road you’re driving on. Now tolls vary based on the level of congestion, rising and falling continually throughout peak hours, potentially changing in 5-minute intervals. Toll roads often provide time reliability, but today’s congestion tolling means you don’t have price reliability. A study done in 2016 by the Texas Transportation Institute at A&M, found that congestion tolling both angers and confuses the public. It states one of the biggest challenges is public acceptance.

GONE: Trump yanks P3s and private toll roads from plan

Link to article here.

Trump pulls the plug on private toll roads, centerpiece of infrastructure plan
By Terri Hall
Setpember 30, 2017

It’s big news for taxpayers, but for the special interests who have been pushing public private partnerships (P3s) and toll roads as the way to fund $1 trillion in upgrades to America’s infrastructure not so much. This week, President Donald Trump officially pulled the plug on P3s as the centerpiece to his infrastructure plan.

The president said simply, “They don’t work.”

Trump mentioned it in a meeting with members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday as the president met with lawmakers to discuss tax reform. Citing the failure of the Interstate-69 P3 contract done under Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana, the state recently had to sever the contract, take over the project, and issue its own debt to get it finished.

Briscoe Cain proved his anti-toll credentials in freshman session

Cain an anti-toll champion who delivered results
By Terri Hall
September 22, 2017

It’s not very often that an elected official does what he promised he would do, but that’s exactly what residents of House District 128 (spanning from east Houston south to Baytown, Deer Park and LaPorte) got when they voted for Briscoe Cain. He ran opposing new tolls and made the prevention of slapping tolls on existing lanes — a double tax — the centerpiece of his campaign.

When it came time to do what he promised, Cain filed an amendment to the must-pass Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, SB 312, to prevent the conversion of free lanes into toll lanes. Working in a bi-partisan effort with his House colleague who filed the same language, Cain got the amendment passed as part of the final bill.

Could flying cars & pod travel through tubes eliminate urban congestion?

Link to article here.

Will highways become obsolete? New modes of transport could replace need for traditional cars

By Terri Hall
September 21, 2017

You’d think it’s counterproductive for Elon Musk to support something that could eliminate the need for his own Tesla self-driving cars, but innovators tend to be on the cutting edge of new technologies and Hyperloop is certainly one to watch. Hyperloop is a new form of transportation that propels a pod (whether people or cargo) through a tube across an elevated track using magnetic levitation technology. The company claims it could take a passenger from Houston to Dallas in under 30 minutes — at airline speeds of 620 MPH without turbulence or drag — at a fraction of the cost. At least that’s how it’s being promoted.

That beats high speed rail systems, including the one being planned by Japan-based Texas Central Railway, whose speeds top out at 205 MPH. The advantage of a Hyperloop type of system over the traditional high speed rail is it would not require the massive taking of rural land, eliminating the eminent domain for private gain problem, since it’s elevated and could potentially be built within existing highway real estate. Nor would a Hyperloop create the noise problems of high speed trains because it’s inside a tube without air drag.

End to exorbitant toll fines in sight? AG may decide

Link to article here.

RELIEF COMING? Ending exorbitant toll fines and fees may be decided by Texas Attorney General

By Terri Hall
September 15, 2017

It’s been a long time coming, but Texas commuters may finally cut a break when it comes to relief from exorbitant toll fines and fees. Texas State Rep. Joe Pickett, former House Transportation Committee Chair, fired off a request for an official legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton this week to see if the caps on toll fines and fees in Senate Bill 312 apply to other toll entities besides the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Pickett’s House colleagues Rep. Ina Minjarez, Rep. Tom Oliverson, and Rep. Tony Dale joined him in signing the letter.

The Texas legislature passed SB 312 in May during the 85th legislative session, and it contains a strong toll collection reform capping the administrative fees imposed on drivers to just $48/year and $250/year in criminal penalties. But one section of the bill references another section of the transportation code that says an entity operating a toll lane has the same powers and duties regarding toll collection as TxDOT. That’s the hook anti-toll advocates are hoping will force the law to apply to all toll agencies, not just TxDOT when it comes to taming the out of control, excessive fines and fees being tacked onto toll bills across the state.

Harvey's impact on Texas infrastructure expected to be massive

Harvey’s impact to infrastructure could be Texas-sized problem
By Terri Hall
Sepetmber 2, 2017

With literally 400 road segments still impacted by the flood waters of hurricane and tropical storm Harvey, the long-term effects to Texas infrastructure along the Texas coast and in the Houston area may be equally devastating. Few state leaders have publicly waded into the tricky waters of how to pay for the massive rebuilding effort of Texas’ infrastructure damaged due to Harvey. One state lawmaker hinted at tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund, but Governor Greg Abbott quickly tamped down any talk of raiding the Rainy Day Fund before lawmakers come back into session in 2019.

Abbott told reporters Friday that Texas has adequate resources to “address the needs between now and next session.”

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina cost taxpayers $110 billion, and Harvey is expected to top that. Regardless of the final dollar amount, it’s going to be big, and it’s hard to know where the funds will come from. The state’s Rainy Day Fund sits at $10.3 billion.

Victory! Tolls come off several Texas highways

Tolls come down: Precedent set as toll comes off two Texas highways
By Terri Hall
August 19, 2017

The bureaucrats couldn’t fight the momentum. Texans have been calling for tolls to come off roads once they’re paid for and thanks to passage of Senate Bill 312, the Texas Transportation Commission voted to do just that on Camino Colombia SH 255 in Laredo and on Cesar Chavez Border Highway in El Paso. To add icing on the cake, the Dallas City Council also voted to deep six the controversial Trinity Toll Road after a 20 year battle, and the Commission is also mulling changing plans on US 183 North in Austin to expand it as non-toll instead of tolled. All that in a matter of weeks.

The last time tolls were removed from a road in Texas was in 1977 — forty years ago. But it’s not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Commission that governs it.

BAIT & SWITCH: TxDOT yanks express lane, shrinks existing capacity on US 281 in Alamo city

UPDATE as of July 13, 2017:
TxDOT finally responded to our inquiries about this apparent bait & switch on the lane count on US 281. They produced the same schematic presented to the public and clarified the new lanes in the southern section are technically auxiliary lanes and transition lanes from the interchange, so they don’t technically count those in the lane number, however, there will be FOUR main lanes each direction up to Stone Oak Parkway.

Double crossed: Express lane taken away, turned into HOV-bus lane after new lane promised to public

By Terri Hall
July 12, 2017

Congestion weary commuters thought they’d finally get a break. Expansion of US 281 in San Antonio is set to go to construction on Sunday, July 17, but it’s not what the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) presented to the public. Today, US 281 has three general purpose lanes each direction (from Loop 1604 to Evans Rd.). The plan  was to add an additional HOV-bus lane, overpasses (so cars can bypass those wretched stop lights impeding traffic flow), and to build frontage roads to the outside of the existing highway.

However, the plan now shows only two express lanes each direction and one HOV/bus lane. So they’re taking away an existing express lane and shrinking the expressway from three down to two. The unelected bureaucrats at TxDOT and the local transportation boards point you to the new frontage roads as the new capacity.

Texans angered over SH 130 bankruptcy deal that wipes out money owed to taxpayers

Zero: Money owed taxpayers for SH 130 toll road erased by bankruptcy court
By Terri Hall
July 8, 2017

The defunct SH 130 tollway just emerged from bankruptcy court and the news isn’t good for taxpayers. In 2007, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) entered into a Comprehensive Development Agreement, or public private partnership, with SH 130 Concession Company, a subsidiary of Spain-based Cintra and Zachry Toll Road 56, which had ownership dispersed among Australian and many other foreign entities. The 41-mile southern stretch of SH 130 opened in November 2012, designed to be a bypass around congested downtown Austin. But the traffic never materialized and the private concession company sought bankruptcy protection in March 2016. According to the terms that emerged from bankruptcy court, all of the private entity’s $1.4 billion debt was wiped away, leaving federal taxpayers left holding the bag for the $430 million federally-backed Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan given to the private entities.

Texas taxpayers feel betrayed. Former Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson swore under oath before the Senate Transportation Committee on March 1, 2007, that if the private entities went bankrupt, the Texas taxpayers would get the road back free and clear of any debt. Free and clear means no debt obligations, and therefore no need to continue to charge tolls for usage. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, new owners were brought in, Strategic Value Partners, $260 million in new debt was issued, and the new private company will continue to charge tolls until the contract is up in 2062 — for a road that now owes virtually no debt compared to its original $1.4 billion.

Think tank: Private toll roads unworkable for nation's infrastructure fix

Link to article here.

Think tank casts doubts on Trump infrastructure plan
By Ashley Halsey
Washington Post
December 2, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump's ambitious plan to raise $1 trillion for infrastructure is a boondoggle that would line the pockets of wealthy investors while not meeting the need for infrastructure repair or improvement in much of the country, according to an analysis released Thursday by a progressive think tank.

Trump's plan "shovels money at wealthy investors instead of solving real infrastructure challenges," according to a white paper from the Center for American Progress.

The paper figures to be the first salvo in a lively debate if Trump follows through on his promise to make refurbishing the nation's roads, bridges and transit systems a centerpiece of his administration, coupling it with his vow to put unemployed middle-class Americans back to work.

"It's really a huge failure because it just doesn't deliver on what the actual needs are out there," said Kevin DeGood, the report's author. "These really complicated deals for which contracts [with private investors] can be beneficial only apply to one-half of 1 percent of the need that is out there."

TxDOT bill hijacked by toll lobby, loopholes diminish anti-toll progress

Hastily approved TxDOT sunset bill offers some toll relief, but riddled with new loopholes
By Terri Hall
May 28, 2017

As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, the antics of some lawmakers warrants scrutiny when it comes to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, SB 312, that passed yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. SB 312 must pass or the highway department goes away. Rather than concur with the House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.

This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.

URGENT ACTION TO SAVE TOLL COLLECTION REFORM

CALLS NEEDED NOW TO SAVE TOLL COLLECTION REFORM

We’ve been told that the toll collection reform amendment that we support, by Rep. Ina Minjarez of San Antonio, is under threat of having its key provision - to decriminalize people who cannot pay toll fines/fees -- stripped from the TxDOT Sunset Bill SB 312. If lawmakers keep the current law in place for what they call a 'habitual toll violator,' that means that if a person simply has a payment card expire and they pass under a toll gantry 100 times, they can be labeled a habitual toll violator and have their vehicle impounded, be taken to court, and be taken to jail if they fail to appear in court. This is a very low threshold and easy to have happen. Toll gantries record vehicle license plates/toll tags and are positioned every 3-5 miles on toll roads. So a driver can pass through 10-20 per day and be deemed a habitual toll violator in under 30 days. By the time a driver is even notified in their monthly statement that there’s a problem, they’re already a ‘habitual toll violator’ and face criminal penalties if they don’t pay up. This doesn’t even touch on the erroneous billing problems that bring the same severe criminal consequences to folks who never even got on a toll road. 
 
No Texan should have their ability to drive and hence have their ability to make a living threatened for failure to pay a fine, especially one handed down so easily and so prone to abuse. The House voted in favor of this amendment by an overwhelming majority of 136-3. But some want it removed, including TxDOT.
 
URGENT ACTION ITEM
Please contact conference committee members IMMEDIATELY and ask them to: 
“Keep the Minjarez Amendment #39 in tact in SB 312 and retain the House language that de-criminalizes toll violations and ends this horrific abuse that has financially ruined thousands of Texans." 
 
Senate Conferees:
Robert Nichols
(512) 463-0103
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Van Taylor
(512) 463-0108
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Juan ‘Chuy' Hinojosa
(512) 463-0120
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Kirk Watson
(512) 463-0114
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Kelly Hancock
(512) 463-0109
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House Conferees:
Larry Gonzales
(512) 463-0670
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Geanie Morrison
(512) 463-0456
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Cindy Burkett
(512) 463-0464 
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Richard Raymond 
(512) 463-0558 
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Senfronia Thompson 
(512) 463-0720 
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URGENT: Calls needed to KILL private toll amendment in House

The TxDOT Sunset Bill is up for a vote by the full Texas House Tuesday, May 16. It involves the continuation and functions of the department and gives members the ability to tack on just about any transportation bill to it -- good and bad.
 
While our Good Guys pre-filed many of our key anti-toll good bills as amendments to SB 312, the Bad Guys did the same, and they're seeking to resurrect PRIVATE TOLL ROADS once again.

URGENT ACTION ITEM
Contact your House member NOW (find who represents you here) and  CALL THEM (switchboard open 8 AM- 5 PM, 512-463-4630) to ask them to vote 'No' on ANY private toll road amendments, especially the Phelan Amendment.

Every House member received our Bill Alert asking them to oppose the private toll road amendments and support our anti-toll good amendments.

1) Ask them to OPPOSE the private toll road amendments, especially the Phelan Amendment, which are sweetheart deals that charge $30-$40/day to get to work, grant government monopolies to a single company in order to exrcat the highest possible tolls, use eminent domain for private gain and HEAPS of taxpayer money to subsidize and bail out the private company's losses.

2) Ask them to SUPPORT our anti-toll amendments (listed below - they all received a copy).

Killing the private toll road bill made national news!

We did it!  Not only did we send a message to Texas lawmakers and special interests that the Rick Perry era of toll roads is over, we also sent a message to the Trump Administration that private toll roads are dead on arrival in Texas!

Watch the Bloomberg story on it here

HB 2861 Record Vote

FB post bootOut Phillips crew

Those who voted to hand 19 TX roads to private, foreign toll operators are:
Yeas 51 — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are´valo; Blanco; Burkett; Button; Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Elkins; Farrar; Flynn; Geren; Giddings; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Howard; Huberty; Israel; Johnson, E.; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Moody; Morrison; Murphy; Neave; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Phillips; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Rose; Sheffield; Shine; Smithee; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Villalba; Walle; Workman.

FB post taxpayer champs
Taxpayer champions who voted against are:
Nays 82 — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Cain; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Cosper; Craddick; Cyrier; Dale; Darby; Dean; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Faircloth; Fallon; Frank; Frullo; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neva´rez; Oliverson; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Pickett; Price; Raney; Reynolds; Rinaldi; Roberts; Romero; Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shaheen; Simmons; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thierry; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; White; Wilson; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.


Absent, Excused — Anchia; Paddie; Wu.
Absent, Excused, Committee Meeting — Ashby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Sanford.
Absent Unexcused — Bernal; Cook; Gervin-Hawkins; Guillen; Hinojosa; Johnson, J.; Kuempel; Minjarez; Vo.

Source: House Journal Recorded Vote

See press release: VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott's vision for toll-free future

Trump floats gas tax hike after tolls get cold shoulder

Link to article here.

Trump floats gas tax increase after cold reception to privatized toll roads

By Terri Hall
May 5, 2017

It’s tough being a change-agent. Newly minted President Donald Trump came into office with high hopes of a major infrastructure overhaul. With the nation’s crumbling bridges, pothole stricken roads, and millions of commuters choking in urban congestion, Trump had a big plan to harness the private sector through public private partnerships (P3s) to address congestion by adding toll lanes. The problem is those privatized toll lanes grant private, usually foreign, entities monopolies over vital public highways where the companies are given the exclusive right to extract the highest possible tolls for 50-99 years.

With the pushback to P3s coming fast and furious from working class families to truckers, Trump has begun to change his tack. After meeting with members of the trucking industry this week, Trump has floated the idea of a federal gas tax increase to raise the revenue necessary for the big infrastructure fix. Truckers prefer a gas tax increase to tolls.

Here’s the back story. The National Highway Trust Fund, which is funded with a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for over a decade while the gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993. Inflation has diminished its buying power over the last 24 years, and members of congress have been reluctant to raise it. Under President George W. Bush, many Republicans pushed road privatization and implementing toll ‘managed’ lanes as the means to finance road projects as perpetual road funding shortfalls plagued the highway system.

HB 2861 - Coalition Opposed to CDAs, P3s & More Toll Roads

Letter to Texas Legislature...

Please be advised that a broad coalition of leaders of grassroots groups across Texas and citizens stand with us in strong opposition to HB 2861 and all related bills that approve any type of Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs) or public private partnership toll projects. A signed statement detailing this significant block of opposition is attached; however, we, and the signers of this letter, do not stand alone in our opposition to CDAs and P3s.