Bidding Pickett farewell, longtime transportation taxpayer ally retires

Farewell: Pickett’s love for transportation and sticking up for taxpayers will be sorely missed
By Terri Hall
December 26, 2018

Pickett Joe jpg 800x1000 Move Texas ForwardRetiring Texas State Representative Joseph Pickett (D - HD 79) is one in a million. Truly there is no one in the Texas House who undertook transportation as a matter of personal study with the aim of improving every step of the process for both the government agencies in charge of delivering projects and also for the forgotten taxpayer like Joe Pickett. He announced his retirement right before Christmas citing his battle with cancer and the need to fully recover without the rigors of a legislative session. It’s truly a devastating loss for the people of Texas. Here’s why.

No one knows Texas transportation like Pickett, and there is no one currently in the Texas House who can come close to replacing his depth of knowledge and expertise anytime soon. He’s been in the Texas House since 1995, serving first on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation then on the Transportation Committee itself, eventually chairing the committee for two sessions.

Pickett not only served on his local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in El Paso as a councilman, but also during most of his tenure in the Texas House. He also served as Chair of the El Paso MPO for several terms. Local MPOs are where the nitty gritty of transportation projects take place. These boards, comprised of local elected officials and transportation agency officials, decide which local projects get priority over others and where gas tax dollars and transportation funds get allocated. Ever since the Rick Perry ‘toll everything so we can generate new revenue and not call it a tax’ began, the MPOs often decide whether or not a road project is tolled. Those are fighting words for many Texans faced with high monthly toll bills that approach the level of a property tax bill for many families in urban areas. Pickett had the savvy and finesse to challenge TxDOT, toll agencies, and MPOs about various toll project decisions and discern whether or not it was truly warranted or just a potential cash cow for an unaccountable agency.

Toll Taxes Taking a Toll

Many Texans are faced with paying an extra, burdensome toll tax on driving just to get to work or travel across the Lone Star State. Drivers are shocked to find tolls that exceed $1 per mile during rush hour, costing hundreds of dollars a month and thousands per year in new taxes on driving. Tolls have become like a second property tax bill for many households.

Freeways are the only fair way, say leaders in Collin County, where the last three highways have been fully tolled

Between existing toll roads and a $600 million commitment in a Nov. 6 bond election, Collin County residents are well-invested in their highways.

So invested, in fact, that their top elected official, County Judge Keith Self, says they're tired of paying as they go. 

"We've got the highest concentration of toll roads anywhere in the state," Self said. "We've got people spending a lot of money to get places. We're not trying to get more toll lanes, we're trying to figure out how to build more freeways like everyone else has."In their transportation bond presentations this fall, county leaders showed maps comparing Collin's limited-access highways to those of 1960s Dallas County, when it hit the 900,000-plus population threshold where Collin County sits today.

Dallas in the 1960s had interstates 20, 30 and 35 and Central Expressway as a new north-south freeway, and it was completing the Interstate 635 connector loop. 

By the 1970s, Central had reached most of Collin. But today, some 50 years later, it remains the county's only free limited-access highway. The others — Dallas North Tollway, Bush Turnpike and Sam Rayburn Tollway — are full-on toll roads. And there are no limited-access roadways on the eastern half of the county, which is one of the nation's fastest-growing.

The comparison is not just of Dallas and Collin maps, but of government's shift in philosophy over the decades in its funding of roads and the increasing cost of transportation infrastructure.

"The state transportation budget has gone down from 33 percent of the state budget. It dipped as low as 7 percent," Self said. "That's a statement."

However, as he nears the end of his 12-year run as county judge in January, Self is also critical of the process — saying that Dallas and Tarrant counties get the bulk of the attention, and most available dollars through the Regional Transportation Commission.

The RTC is a metropolitan planning organization, assigned by federal law to allocate federal and state transportation dollars in the 12-county region. Its members are locally elected officials with seats divided according to population. Collin's five seats among 44 doesn't seem much to leaders of a county with a population of 900,000.

"We have to be on the radar," McKinney City Council member Chuck Branch said in criticizing the RTC at a recent work session to discuss U.S. Highway 380. "We don't really have a leg to stand on when it comes to representation."

The RTC operates in conjunction with the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The council of governments' executive board, of which Self is a member, has no authority to override RTC decisions. It answers to the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin.

"We have a regional legislature known as the RTC that has no oversight," Self said. "The process is broken because the metropolitan planning organization carries too much authority. The state has got to claw back."

That's exactly what happened, he said, when the RTC recommended that the LBJ East project be built with new tolled lanes through Lake Highlands, Garland and Mesquite. Through three legislative sessions, then two trips to Austin for Texas Transportation Commission votes, those who didn't want new toll roads pushed back. Today, the approved plan for LBJ East includes no new toll lanes.

Michael Morris, transportation director for the council of governments and staff liaison to the RTC, also cited LBJ East as a recent example of how state oversight worked to hone the process. 

"There is nothing the RTC can do that the Texas Transportation Commission does not endorse," Morris said. On LBJ East, he said, the state commissioners stepped in to underline the sensitivities state leaders are showing regarding tolled roadways.

The process for LBJ East — a $1.8 billion project — was seen as a model for how Texas mega-projects would be funded in the future. And Collin County has freeway needs that are even bigger projects. County leaders are adamant that those projects, including Highway 380 and the Outer Loop, be built as freeways.

"Everybody is short of money," Self said. "Government is, at its base, the allocation of scarce resources."

Morris said he gets the message and, with the help of RTC members including Duncan Webb, Self's colleague on the county commission, says significant dollars are set aside for Collin's next builds.

RTC allocates money based on congestion. Its formula indicates that Collin County accounts for 20 percent of the area's congestion. That translates to $900 million in federal and state dollars set aside in 2016 for the county's future.

"The partnership we have with the state gives us 10 percent additional for right of way and 10 percent for engineering," Morris said. "With the Collin County bond, they're sitting on $1.5 to $2 billion. I personally know of no other place in the nation where there is $2 billion waiting for non-tolled projects than Collin County."

Morris said that once cities reach a consensus on the route for Highway 380, it will be inserted into the Mobility 2045 plan and officially become a regional priority.

"It's unfortunate that 50 years ago, 380 wasn't built as a freeway," he said. "It would have been hard back then for people to have forecast the growth, but the spacing indicates that somewhere right where 380 is today needs to be a freeway facility."

By Ray Leszcynski, Communities | Source article

Lobby group tries to weasel around Abbott's no toll pledge, calls for public vote

Lobby group pushes public vote on toll roads: Here's why we oppose it
By Terri Hall

Tollpayer Protection Act webLobbyist  David White  is pushing a Toll Payer Protection Act to undermine Governor Greg Abbott’s ‘No more toll road’ pledge to voters. Thanks to Abbott's edict last November, no more toll roads can be built. White's goal is to get enough GOP counties to pass this protection act to pressure the Governor to cave on his promise to 'we the people' and open the door back up to toll roads in all 254 counties across Texas. They’ll eventually win those public votes by holding our roads hostage (never fix them) until we cry 'Uncle!' and capitulate to tolling it. They want that revenue and they’re not accountable for how it’s spent like they are with gas taxes. Tolls are an unaccountable slush fund for roads and the road lobby. 

Here’s the Austin Monitor article  listing him as one of the paid lobbyists hired by City of Austin to undermine property tax reform. So he’s not pro-taxpayer as he appears to be with the Toll Payer Protection Act.

Anti-toll candidates win in midterm election

Anti-toll candidates fare well in midterm election
By Terri Hall
November 21, 2018

The midterm election in Texas concluded with new battle lines drawn and the margin between parties closer than ever in what was considered a solidly red state. Anti-toll candidates fared well, winning the majority (18 of 27) of the races endorsed by Texans by Toll-free Highways. Likewise, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom’s (TURF) Voter Guide, that rates incumbents based on voting records and its survey on toll roads and property rights related questions, saw many of its top rated candidates who had contested races chalk up victories. All the anti-toll candidates at the top of the ballot won, including Ted Cruz, two congressional candidates, Ron Wright and Chip Roy, as well as Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The state’s two top leaders, Abbott and Patrick, put a line in the sand last November declaring no more tolls moving forward. Voters re-elected both and they’ll hold them to that promise

The biggest defeats came in the Texas House with 9 anti-toll backed candidates losing, and one outcome is still too close to call as it’s undergoing a recount in House District 132 where incumbent Mike Schofield has fallen behind his challenger. While tolls may not have played a huge role in several of those races, the hardest ones to choke down are the losses of two anti-toll champion senators, Konni Burton (R - Colleyville) and Don Huffines (R- Dallas), and House Freedom Caucus anti-toll champion Matt Rinaldi (R - Irving). The other four anti-toll backed senate candidates won their races: Bob Hall, Angela Paxton, Donna Campbell, and Pat Fallon.

The End of the Road - unmasking the SH 130 bankruptcy and financial web

Link to article here to view all the graphics and listen to audio of locals affected by the toll road.

The End of the Road
The state had great plans for the southern leg of Texas 130. An 85-mile-an-hour speed limit, no direct, up-front cost to state taxpayers, millions of dollars in toll revenue for the state. What happened?
By Katherine Blunt
San Antonio Express-news
September 16, 2016

When the Texas Department of Transportation signed a deal for the first public-private toll road in the state, it touted the partnership as a win for everybody: The San Antonio-Austin area would get a new section of highway at no upfront cost to Texas taxpayers, private developers would run the operation and profit over time, and the state would own the road and earn millions of dollars in toll revenue.

The deal allowed Cintra, a Spanish infrastructure developer, and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp. to build, operate and maintain the 41-mile southern section of Texas 130 for 50 years as part of a lease agreement with TxDOT. Slicing through farmland between Seguin and Mustang Ridge, south of Austin, the road would become known for its 85-mph speed limit — the highest in the country.

“Over the 50 years, we would receive, it’s estimated, a substantial amount of revenues,” former TxDOT tolling official Phil Russell told the Texas Transportation Commission before it approved the deal in 2006. “It would be worth $245 million (in toll revenue) and a long-term funding source for operation and maintenance.”

Less than a decade later, Cintra and Zachry plan to walk away from the project and hand their bankrupt joint venture, SH 130 Concession Co., to its lenders. The company owes federal taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars and is engaged in a years-long dispute with TxDOT about maintenance and construction problems on the sparsely traveled road. And so far, it has paid the state only about $3 million in toll revenue.

Link to read the full expose' here.

Texans angry over toll taxes

Link to article here.

You shouldn't have to uproot, sell your house, and re-locate your whole life in order to avoid paying tolls like Austin resident, Laura Thomas, had to. This turns the American dream into a Texas nightmare.

Texans driven mad as tolls burn holes in their wallets
As the number of toll projects continue to ramp up in the name of easier commutes, thousands of Texans are feeling anything but relief.
by Alex Samuels
Nov. 17, 2017

Angela Dean spends at least $200 a month to cover after-school care for her 5-year-old son. Getting back and forth to work — and making sure she picks him up in time — costs another $200 just in tolls.

“If I didn't take toll roads, my commute would be an hour-and-a-half or more depending on traffic,” Dean said. “I get off work at 5:30 p.m. and I have to pick my son up by 6:30 or pay crazy late fees. When I take the toll roads, I get there with about 15 minutes to spare.”

The North Texas suburbanite uses the President George H. W. Bush Turnpike or Sam Rayburn Tollway to travel between her Lewisville home and Richardson workplace each day. Those roads are like many across Texas built in an era when transportation leaders said there wasn’t enough tax money to fund all the construction needed to keep up with population growth.

Regional planners and state officials are also adding managed toll lanes alongside existing highway main lanes throughout the state’s urban areas. Those are used to partially finance road rebuilds and expansions — and to provide drivers with the option of paying to avoid congestion.

But as the number of toll projects continues to ramp up in the name of easier commutes, Dean is among thousands of Texans feeling anything but relief. Drivers across the state complain about paying tolls on top of gas taxes, being charged exorbitant late fees and having to choose between traffic delays or costly toll bills.

Texans, local officials and legislators have pushed back on plans for new toll roads and managed toll lanes in recent years. Voters in 2014 and 2015 sent the Texas Department of Transportation more revenue, after state leaders assured them that the money wouldn’t be used on toll projects. The agency considered using an accounting maneuver to still fund some new managed toll lanes but backed off that idea amid political pressure Thursday.

Meanwhile, Texans are seeing existing toll lanes impacting their pocketbooks — and influencing major life choices.

In 2015, an 11-mile stretch of Austin’s MoPac Boulevard expanded to eight lanes from six, and the two new lanes were tolled — to the displeasure of Laura Thomas.

The Austin resident bought a house near the corridor thinking the construction would be complete within a year. But construction on the $200 million project took much longer, making the drive to her daughter’s school “unbearable.” Thomas found herself having to choose between paying a toll to skip traffic or spend time trapped in gridlock.

“At peak times the cost of the toll could be over $10,” Thomas said. “My stress level was through the roof.”

Eventually, Thomas sold her house and downsized to an apartment in another part of the city that had 500 fewer square feet and one less bedroom.

“Obviously it was a big trade-off,” Thomas said. “But my main question to myself when making the decision was, ‘Is my sanity worth it?’ And it was worth sacrificing some things for peace in the mornings.”

For Christie Nichols Duty of Kaufman, a town about 35 miles southeast of Dallas, toll roads have proven to be hard to avoid — even when she tries. Last year, she and her husband were driving on Interstate 35-E near downtown Dallas when they realized they were in a lane that would force them to enter the Dallas North Tollway. The couple tried to change lanes, but weren’t successful.

Duty said they’ve also had problems with confusing signs on other highways, like LBJ Freeway, that have managed toll lanes running alongside main lanes.

“For people that are not used to the area, it can be very deceiving,” she said.

When the couple received a $35 bill from the North Texas Tollway Authority, they didn’t initially pay it because they weren't happy with being "forced onto the tollway." Now it’s ballooned into a $1,200 bill.

“We’ll have to do a payment plan because we don't have that kind of money sitting around,” Duty said.

Michelle Kelly of Mesquite used to rely on toll roads all the time when she was a student at the University of North Texas in Denton. These days, she uses the Bush Turnpike to go to nearby Rowlett or visit Firewheel Town Center in Garland. But she said the “pricey tolls” mean she only uses that corridor on occasion.
“I’m on a budget, and it hurts my budget if I drive on them on a regular basis,” she said.

Dean, the Lewisville commuter, is among many people who thought that once toll revenues paid off construction costs, roads and toll lanes would become free for drivers. But toll agencies and the Texas Department of Transportation instead plan to use excess toll money to fund road maintenance — and construction of new projects.

That includes new toll projects.

“The sad thing is, the tolls never go away,” Dean said. “Oftentimes we are paying tolls just to sit in traffic, and the toll roads are supposed to alleviate the traffic.”

Sneaky SH 130 Expansion Defies Abbott/Patrick Pledge

Article posted in Empower Texans Scorecard here.

Sneaky SH 130 Expansion Defies Abbott/Patrick Pledge

New toll lanes deceptively approved for SH 130
By JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director, Grassroots America – We the People PAC and
Terri Hall, Founder/Director, Texans for Toll-Free Highways PAC
May 2, 2018
Empower Texans Scorecard

Here we go again! Another toll road expansion gets to hopscotch ahead of the state’s major congestion priorities such as I-35 in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. The Texas Transportation Commission just approved spending $36.7 million in toll revenues to add another toll lane to the state operated section of SH 130 from SH 45N to Hwy 290 (the southern 41 miles is operated by a private corporation that emerged the winner in bankruptcy court despite the promise it would return to the public if it went bankrupt).  More broken bureaucratic promises – shocking, right?

Buried in the commission agenda was a nebulous, generalized agenda item 3(a): ‘The construction of highways and other transportation facilities’ (see attached itemized list). After searching through 21 pages of projects, the Commission expects the public to discern what’s going on when it gives no project description and merely lists how much money the Commission is approving for each project. The word ‘toll’ is nowhere to be found, unlike past Commission agendas that clearly delineate toll projects under separate agenda items and have a specific minute order with detailed information about the project and the origin of the funds.

Toll bureaucracies irked at cap on toll fines

Link to article here.

Lawmakers clash with toll bureaucracies over cap on toll fines

By Terri Hall
March 11, 2018
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

It’s a great day for Texas drivers as a new law takes effect capping the toll fines and fees on some Texas tollways to $48 a year. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion just as the law took effect that said the new law applies to all toll entities, but only under a limited section of the Transportation Code — Chapter 228. This has put toll agencies, like the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), on a collision course with lawmakers over the interpretation of how broadly the law impacts certain toll projects.

Paxton did assert the new law applies to “an entity operating a toll lane pursuant to Section 228.007(b), Transportation Code,” which brings in every type of toll entity. However, most toll projects are not governed by agreements with TxDOT under Chapter 228, so toll bureaucracies argue the new law, passed as part of SB 312 last year, only applies to a handful of toll projects.

Trump plan to lift ban on tolling existing interstates draws scorn

Link to article here.

Trump plan to lift ban on tolling existing interstates met with stiff opposition

By Terri Hall
February 13, 2018
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research

The lowly taxpayer just can’t seem to cut a break. Weeks after the euphoria of passing the largest tax cut in a generation, President Donald Trump released his infrastructure proposal pushing toll roads and public private partnerships (P3s), which spells disaster for those middle class workers’ pocketbooks. The most contentious proposal being lifting the ban on tolling existing interstates.

Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) was instrumental in protecting taxpayers from double taxation by defending the ban on tolling existing interstates during her tenure, even imposing a special provision to protect Texas. Now Trump wants to provide states “flexibility to toll existing interstates.” This means the lanes you drive today toll-free could now have tolls slapped on them simply to generate revenue for big government as a new tax in the hands of unelected toll agencies or to line the pockets of private toll operators — completely out of reach of the voters.

Cost of driving down, but tolls, taxes erase any gains for taxpayers

Cost of car ownership down, but tolls, taxes continue to rise
By Terri Hall
January 31, 2018

Americans should be celebrating the lower cost of driving between 2016 and 2017, but the tolls and taxes being imposed by government threaten to erase any gains motorists might have enjoyed. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Transportation Economic Trends of 2017, the number of miles traveled by Americans went up 7.9% since 2014 (17.3% since 2000) with a slight 2.2% drop in the overall cost of private transportation (including a .5% drop in the cost of buying a new or used vehicle and an 11.5% decrease in fuel costs). However, taxes on vehicles increased 2.1%, parking fees and tolls (imposed by government) rose 2.8%, and car maintenance and repair went up 1.7%. With car insurance spiking 6.2% and housing costs soaring 6%, these cost increases effectively erase any cost savings motorists experienced.

Several developments compound the frustration of motorists who can’t seem to cut a break. Many cities across America tilt left, politically, and they’ve declared war on cars and use gasoline taxes collected from motorists in order to erect impediments to driving through a variety of traffic calming and social engineering gimmicks.

Chance at LBJ E fix without tolls scuttled by Transportation Commission delay

Unexpected delay by Commission puts non-toll fix to LBJ E in Dallas on hold
By JoAnn Fleming and Terri Hall
January 25, 2018

A showdown was expected at today’s Texas Transportation Commission meeting over Interstate-635 E as elected officials seeking to make good on their campaign promises to end tolls were butting heads with transportation interests seeking to lobby for more tolls. Thanks to the tireless work of Senator Bob Hall who had brought the various factions together, all the players from across the spectrum had agreed to advance a non-toll expansion of Interstate-635 E (from US-75 to Interstate 30) without tolls, sidelining tolled express lanes in accordance with the policy of Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who recently pulled the plug on future toll roads in response to grassroots pressure. The non-toll plan is what appeared on today’s agenda.

However, to everyone’s surprise, Chairman Bruce Bugg announced that he would delay action on the project. He referred to a $1 billion funding gap between the old toll plan and the newly brokered non-toll version, but Transportation Director of the Regional Transportation Council Michael Morris very articulately begged to differ.

Morris laid out several scenarios of how the non-toll freeway expansion was fully funded and how it could move forward today without further delay. Even the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Deputy Executive Director Marc Williams testified the non-toll project was, in fact, ‘fiscally constrained,’ which means fully funded.

Tolls hit $44 one way in D.C., how long before we see same in Texas?

Link to article here.

Out of control: Commuters clobbered with $44 one way in tolls

By Terri Hall
December 22, 2017

Tolls hit $44 one way to go 10 miles on Interstate 66 in Virginia. Rub your eyes and read that again. Tolls have become the new ‘drug’ of choice for politicians and bureaucrats. It’s become a legalized form of highway robbery. While elected officials try to navigate the mess they’ve made by unleashing unelected transportation bureaucrats with the unfettered power to enter into secret contracts with foreign corporations behind closed doors and giving them carte blanche access to commuters wallets with virtually no limit, it’s no wonder toll rates have reached unsustainable levels in a few short years after state lawmakers embarked on the grand toll experiment.

With little checks and balances, commuters are now locked into congestion misery or face financial hardship the likes of which have never been seen in America simply to get to work. For many, working will no longer pay the cost of getting there. It’s not just I-66, but also interstates 95, 395, and 495. Express toll lanes, often referred to as ‘managed’ lanes, are the new normal in many metropolitan areas, especially in states that jumped on board early due to the influence of Bob Poole and the Reason Foundation — like Florida, Texas, and Virginia.

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
October 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.

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.

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.

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.