County judge flip flops on Hwy 249 toll road in Grimes County

Link to article here.

Despite overwhelming opposition by the citizenry, this county judge reverses himself to side with special interests over his own constituents.

Grimes County Judge Expresses New Support For Highway 249 Toll Road
By Clay Falls
KBTX.com
February 20, 2015

GRIMES COUNTY, Texas - Grimes County Commissioners are continuing to oppose plans for a future toll road but the County Judge is now seeing more reasons to support the project.

Last week county commissioners voted four to one in support of a resolution opposing the Highway 249 also known as the Aggie Highway.

County Judge Ben Leman told us Friday he does think a future highway like this is inevitable.

He says TxDOT's new plan to spend $2 million on feeder roads for the project would be a benefit to Grimes county.

He told us he's disappointed but not discouraged by the commissioners' resolution.

CNN: Secret world of toll collection, focuses on Harris County, Texas

The secret world of government debt collection
By Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken
CNN Money.com
February 17, 2015

Government agencies across the country are hiring private debt collectors to go after millions of Americans over unpaid taxes, ancient parking tickets and even $1 tolls.

It’s a good deal for cash-strapped states, cities and other local governments. By outsourcing this dirty work and letting private companies charge debtors sky-high fees, government agencies can get these collection services free of charge.

And it's a great deal for debt collectors. In an industry already known for bad behavior, debt collectors that work for government agencies usually don’t have to work within the confines of consumer protection laws – opening the door for higher fees and even more aggressive tactics.

Their government bosses can give them the power to threaten debtors with the suspension of their driver’s license, garnishment of their wages, foreclosure and arrest to get them to pay up.

To read the whole story, click here.

Road funding bill moves to Senate floor

Link to article here.

Just do a simple graph that plots the rise in education spending versus road spending and you can’t even begin to make the argument Dick Lavine made during his testimony before the Senate Transportation Committee. Hands down, education and public health eat up over 80% of the budget. Roads ranges between 4%-10%. There is no ‘underinvestment’ in schools.

There’s an overzealous, loud and demanding education bureaucracy that eats up the dollars that should be sent to the classroom. There are 3 staffers for every teacher. But by starving the classroom (the part parents and students see), they can continue to claim that more money is needed for schools. Teachers should demand an end to the bureaucrats stealing their money and refusing to put money into teacher salaries and directly into the classroom (not the buildings) - but sadly, they’d rather use teachers as a political prop as an excuse to keep eating up the budget and starving other core functions of government, like roads.

State senate panel advances road funding plan
By Dug Begley | February 25, 2015
Houston Chronicle

A state senate committee moved forward Wednesday with a plan to use half the revenue from motor vehicle sales taxes for road improvements, but some senators expressed concern about unintended consequences.

The plan, sponsored by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and with support from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, passed the Senate Transportation Committee 8-1 after two hours of discussion. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, cast the lone dissenting vote.

Phillips denigrates anti-toll movement

Former House Transportation Committee Chair, Larry Phillips, went on a rant attacking the anti-toll movement in Texas, blaming it on a few 'activists' who are 'lighting a fire' and stirring up trouble for pro-toll-tax loving lawmakers like Phillips. Well, we've got news for you, the anti-toll sentiment doesn't need any fomenting by activists, it happens organically on its own when taxpayers instinctively know they're being DOUBLE TAXED into poverty by this runaway tax on driving. TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways are simply helping organize the grassroots tax revolt to pressure lawmakers to stop tolls across Texas.

Phillips berates TURF for seeking accountability

Rep. Larry Phillips tried to blast Terri Hall of TURF for daring to seek accountability from unelected toll agencies known as Regional Mobility Authorities (or RMAs). RMAs are fraught with abuses like taxpayer-funded lobbying, steering contracts to former board members, and cronyism. Yet Phillips defends RMAs and castigates the grassroots for demanding accountability. He also tries to get TURF to advocate for a gas tax hike to shore-up shortfalls in the state highway fund, rather than demand our lawmakers properly fund this core function of government from EXISTING road taxes and fees first. As long as they keep diverting vehicle sales tax to non-road purposes, it's crazy to expect taxpayers to choke down a tax hike. Phillips says, "I'm all for spending more money," rather than discipline the use of our existing taxes first.

Lawmakers introduce package of Toll-free Texas bills

IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Rep. Sanford, Rep. Leach, and Rep. Shaheen File Legislation for a Toll Free Texas

(AUSTIN, TX, February 24, 2015) Today, Rep. Scott Sanford (R - McKinney), Rep. Jeff Leach (R - Plano), and Rep. Matt Shaheen (R - Plano), announced a series of bills to move Texas toward a toll road free future.

Citizens who live in areas served by toll roads find themselves paying additional taxes in the form of tolls for what they feel should have been funded by their taxes paid to the state.  Individuals and businesses find that these taxes/tolls have become overly burdensome on their budgets and regard them as a substantial tax increase.
Furthermore, citizens have felt left out of the decision making process when it comes to transportation policy and decision-making.  Too many times, they hear about a distant “Authority” or “Council” over which they have no familiarity, run by names that never appear on their ballots.

Abbott state of the state speech promises adequate road funds without tolls

Link to article here.

Abbott state of the state speech promises adequate road funds without tolls
By Terri Hall
February 17, 2015
Examiner.com

Texas Governor Greg Abbott outlined his priorities in his first state-of-the-state address today in a joint session of the Texas legislature, and he unequivocally promised to add $4 billion a year more to roads without raising taxes, fees, debt or tolls. That’s music to the ears of most Texans, beleaguered and weary of toll roads popping up on nearly every major highway across Texas. Abbott’s predecessor, former Governor Rick Perry, made toll roads, especially those funded through public private partnerships, the centerpiece of his transportation policy for 14 years. Now it’s coming home to roost, and Texans are saying ‘No more!’ Essentially, Abbott said ‘I hear you’ and I have a plan to fix it.

To show just how serious he is, Abbott declared transportation an emergency item, allowing these funding initiatives to be fast-tracked and considered earlier than normal. The governor’s funding plan tracks with what the grassroots have been advocating for two sessions: ending diversions of state highway funds to non-road purposes and dedicating a portion of the vehicle sales tax to roads. In addition, Abbott’s plan reaches $4 billion when combined with half of the oil and gas severance tax known as Proposition 1 funds that Texas voters overwhelmingly passed last November.

URGENT! CALLS NEEDED TO STOP TOLLS in SA

SAN ANTONIO RESIDENTS
URGENT! Call Wolff NOW!
Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff is bringing a resolution to a vote on Tuesday, February 17 (see Item #69, on page 13 of the Commissioners Court Agenda) to reaffirm that he wants to impose toll taxes to drive US 281 (from Loop 1604 to the county line), I-10 (from Loop 1604 to Boerne), and Loop 1604 (from Bandera Rd. to I-35 at the Forum).

Call Kevin Wolff's office NOW at (210) 335-2613 to urge him to pull down his resolution and use the new road money from Prop 1 (avg. $1 billion/yr) and the money coming shortly in the next budget to be adopted by the Texas Legislature (at least $1.2 billion) to fix these freeways without TOLLS! View the plan here.

What will it cost me?
The published toll rates range from 17 cents a mile - 50 cents a mile. Wolff and his fellow commissioners along with his Dad, County Judge Nelson Wolff, will impose 'congestion tolling,’ to ensure you pay the maximum to use the toll lanes during peak hours (when everyone actually has to get to work).

So these new toll taxes will average $8-10 day or over $2,000 a year in new taxes just to get to work. The more congestion on the roadway, the more you pay. In fact, the toll rate rises in real time to purposely knock cars out of the toll lanes if the speed drops below 50 MPH in the toll lanes, which is almost guaranteed behind a bus (these will be HOV-toll transit lanes, also called ‘managed lanes')!

What’s the plan?
View the plan here.

On US 281, today there are 5-6 freeway lanes from Loop 1604 to Stone Oak Pkwy. When they’re done, there will still be just 6 lanes of highway, BUT, one existing freeway lane in the center will be converted into a HOV-toll transit lane (think bus lane, you’ll be paying a toll to drive slow behind buses, also called ‘managed lanes’ to hide the word ’toll'). No new highway lanes will be added at all, yet the toll authority (Alamo RMA) is conducting a half a million dollar ad campaign that tells commuters the toll road will DOUBLE existing capacity. All they’re adding are access roads, not highway lanes. So they’re counting the new frontage roads as ‘doubling your capacity.’

These HOV-toll lanes have NO ACCESS to Loop 1604 (on either proposed toll project) so if you need to get on 1604, you’ll be stuck in the congested general purpose lanes. On US 281, there’s also no exit for any local traffic until Stone Oak Pkwy, so commuters cannot access all those neighborhoods from the toll lanes, leaving more cars on the congested freeway.

North of Stone Oak Pkwy on US 281 there are 4 existing freeway lanes today. When they’re done with the freeway-tollway conversion, every single free lane will be converted into a toll lane. Commuters will have NO free highway option on the northern stretch of US 281 (from Stone Oak Pkwy. to the Bexar County line).

On I-10 and Loop 1604, the plan is to add two new HOV-toll transit lanes each direction (although some documents only show one new lane on I-10). At Loop 1604 & I-10, the new direct connect interchange ramps will NOT be accessible to anyone other than those paying tolls. In both the I-10 & US 281 corridors, buses will have very expensive, exclusive direct connect ramps into/out of the toll lanes to Via's park-n-ride transit centers in the Hill Country (where few will ever carpool or get on a bus). On US 281, the toll lanes do not connect to Loop 1604 and you'll be paying a toll to get stuck behind a bus. If I-10 is expanded one lane and not two, you’ll be paying a toll to get stuck behind a bus there, too.

Why now?
While both Wolffs have consistently voted to toll our area freeways, why are they voting to ‘reaffirm’ something they already did? Because former Gov. Rick Perry’s Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton is being replaced in just a few short weeks by an appointee of incoming Governor Greg Abbott who campaigned against toll roads. Houghton and Perry have made it their mission to impose tolls all over Bexar County, and they’ve been unsuccessful due to citizen resistance. If the Commissioners pass this resolution, they’re attempting to thwart the efforts by Governor Abbott and the Texas legislature to fix the road funding shortfall without more tolls and hence get Bexar County freeways fixed toll-free as promised.

Bait & Switch - Broken promises
Sadly, when Nelson Wolff was running for re-election he sent a letter to the Transportation Commission to ask for Prop 1 money to be used to fix US 281 without tolls, now that he won re-election, he’s reneged on his promise and is voting to keep tolls on US 281.

TAKE ACTION
Call Kevin Wolff's office NOW at (210) 335-2613 to tell him to pull down his resolution and use the new road money from Prop 1 (avg. $1 billion/yr) and the money coming shortly in the next budget to be adopted by the Texas Legislature (at least $1.2 billion) to fix these freeways without TOLLS!

For more history...
SA officials unveil $825 million toll plan

Board reneges on promise to fix 281, 1604 without tolls

Wolff flip-flops: 'You can fry me for it later'

Taxpayers to pay carpoolers tolls

Link to article here.

This is offensive. Our federal tax money is PAYING people to carpool by reducing or reimbursing their tolls! So those of us who don’t fall into the social engineering incentives of big government, are paying for other people’s tolls meanwhile we pay for full price to access those toll roads. This is a form of punishment for single occupancy vehicles - those who have to ride to work alone. A $1 million federal grant won't last long if even a small number of people seek reimbursment for tolls. After the TxDOT-Xerox toll billing nightmare, do we really need any more evidence that a government toll reimbursement program will be handled any better? Seriously!

What's the benefit of this Carma App anyway? Why would someone pay 20 cents a mile to carpool? They may as well drive their own car, and there’s some serious liability involved when matching total strangers to ride in a car together.

App reimburses carpoolers for paying tolls
By Amber Downing
KVUE.com
February 10, 2015

AUSTIN -- Austin is well known for it's traffic troubles, and the ever-growing population means it gets more crowded every day.

A new feature on a carpooling app may help. Commuters can now use Carma, a real-time, ride-sharing smart phone app, that pairs people with similar commute routes and schedules to enable them to find a ride or fill up their empty seats.

The app has partnered with TxTag, so drivers can be reimbursed for using toll roads. However, lately some people have raised concerns about billing issues, questioning how the app will work.

SCANDAL: TxDOT-Xerox $100 million toll contract blows up in Texas Senate

Link to article here.

Xerox toll collection problems explode in Senate hearing
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
February 11, 2015

If ever there was a time to air the dirty laundry of a state agency in chaos, it’s the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and its $100 million contract with Xerox for toll collections in Central Texas. Today’s Senate Transportation Committee hearing put TxDOT and its contractor on the hot seat with plenty of rapid fire questions from incredulous senators who could hardly believe their ears. TxDOT admitted 3.5 million toll transactions got caught up in the billing snafu that sent up to 2-year-old bills to Austin motorists, many of them padded with steep late fees and fines.

At least 30,000 motorists had valid toll tag accounts that should have been charged through their accounts, but instead received paper bills adding an extra 33% for pay-by-mail as well as additional late fees. When they tried to reach customer service at TxDOT’s toll-free number, they faced extremely long wait times before anything could be resolved.

Even more amazing was the response from Xerox Vice President Laurie Zazadio when she was asked to testify. She stated her name, said Xerox was making improvements, and concluded her remarks saying she can answer any questions.

Patrick pushes bill to dedicate vehicle sales tax to highway fund

Link to article here.

Amen! It's about time we finally make progress on shoring up our road funding shortfalls - and this bill does it without raising taxes and it can't go to toll roads!

Patrick, Nichols: Put Car Sales Tax Toward Roads
by Aman Batheja
Feb. 4, 2015
Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick publicly backed a plan Wednesday to boost transportation funding by billions of dollars a year by dedicating some of the sales tax already collected on car sales to road work.

Patrick said he supported a proposal from Senate Transportation Chairman Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, that would ask voters to amend the Texas Constitution to dedicate any vehicle sales tax revenue beyond $2.5 billion annually to the state's highway fund. Nichols' plan would start in fiscal year 2018; until then, all of the vehicle sales tax collected — about $4 billion annually — would continue to go to the state’s all-purpose general fund.

Tolls impede the American spirit of the open road

Link to article here.

We agree, toll collection methods are a HUGE threat to personal liberties.

Tolls impede the American spirit of the open road
By Tom Jackson
Equipment World
February 02, 2015

Jack Kerouac would weep, were he alive today.

The author famous for making road trips a rite of passage would be shocked to find how tolls, tickets and traffic fines are being used as revenue enhancement schemes and an extension of the American surveillance state.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Drug Enforcement Administration had developed a program to photograph license plates put them in a database to track drug dealers and criminals. You can read a synopsis of it here.

The government won’t say how many license plates are in the database, but it’s reportedly in the “millions.” And like so many other government programs, this one has morphed into a “massive domestic intelligence-gathering program.”

Repeal of private toll companies' eminent domain authority imminent

Link to article here.

NOTE: TURF prefers Rep. Yvonne Davis’ (HB 1004) bill and Sen. Bob Hall’s  (SB 444) bill to remove the eminent domain authority from these private toll corporations. Their bills are stronger than Burkett’s and no loopholes.

Texas Lawmaker Proposes Ban On Toll Road Land Confiscation
Texas state representative proposes to deny privately owned toll roads their authority to seize land through eminent domain.
The Newspaper.com
February , 2015

Opponents of toll roads in Texas no longer want to see the public gets the worst end of the bargain in "public-private partnerships. That is why state Representative Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) introduced legislation for the current session to strip private entities of the power of taking land from citizens for the use of toll road builders.

Burkett's proposal, House Bill 565, would prohibit the Texas Turnpike Corporation from taking land through eminent domain as if it were a governmental entity. A law adopted in 1991 gave the corporation this exclusive authority.

Montgomery County rails against High Speed Rail plan

Link to article here.

Texans oppose high speed rail through their communities, as they did when it was packaged as part of the Trans Texas Corridor. Impacts deemed 'catastrophic'!

Montgomery County leaders, residents rally against proposed high-speed rail
by Liza Winkler
Impact News
February 3, 2015

An estimated 800 Montgomery County officials and residents gathered Feb. 2 at the Lone Star Community Center in Montgomery to speak out against the proposed construction of a 240-mile high-speed rail project between Houston and Dallas by 2021.

“[The high-speed rail] is one of the biggest threats to Montgomery County in many, many years,” retired Montgomery County Judge Alan Sadler said. “Once those [assessed property value] decreases take place if this train hits this route in Montgomery County, the entirety of the county will pay the tax differential to make up for the loss. It is extreme.”

TxDOT addresses toll collection, billing troubles with Xerox contract

Link to article here.

TxDOT just imposed $177,000 in fines for the problems associated with this contract. Who in their right minds spends $20 million a year to collect tolls for 3 lousy toll roads operated by TxDOT in Austin? This is a colossal waste of money. End this toll road abuse, get back to FREEways again!

TxDOT: Toll Billing Problems Being Addressed
by Aman Batheja
Jan. 29, 2015
Texas Tribune

Amid complaints from drivers about confusing bills and shoddy customer service, the Texas Department of Transportation said Thursday it is working to address concerns with its new toll billing system.

TxDOT signed a five-year, $100 million contract with Xerox last year for the company to take over its tolling operations, including billing and customer service. In recent months, some drivers on Texas toll roads have faced bills that were higher than they expected. Adding to their frustration? Long wait times on customer service calls and difficulty accessing accounts online.

MoPac toll road costs increase $60 million

Link to article here.

Note: the Original price tag was $136 million, now it’s going up to $197 million because of some ’stubborn’ limestone? That’s hardly a $61 million problem. That’s the trouble with these design-build contracts, the cost always goes up! Change orders, change orders, change orders - it’s how these companies game the system and the taxpayers. End the Regional Mobility Authorities. They exist to WASTE our money and impose unaccountable toll taxes.

MoPac's new toll roads likely to be delayed a few months
By Nick Simonite
Austin Business Journal
Jan 29, 2015

This highway has a habit of slowing anything down in its path — including construction crews. The toll lanes to be added to MoPac Expressway won't be typical. They'll be "managed lanes," meaning that the toll will fluctuate depending on traffic conditions. The heavier the traffic, the bigger the toll.

MoPac Expressway's new toll lanes may be ready at the end of the year rather than in September, the Austin-American Statesman reports.

Contractor problems and tougher-than-expected limestone are partly to blame, according to the report, which states that the 11-mile-long highway makeover still will cost less than the $197 million that the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was granted for the project.

Washington state man pays more than $18,000 in tolls

Link to article here.

There will be no end to the abuses of toll collections if this is allowed to stand. It's extortion!

Washington state man pays more than $18,000 in tolls
Published February 01, 2015
Associated Press

A Washington state man says he just paid more than $18,000 in bridge tolls for his son who crossed the 520 bridge daily for work but never got a Good To Go pass.

KING-TV reports that Tom Rose's son thought he would be billed for the tolls and that he could pay later.

His son never received a bill. He learned the total of what he owed when he tried to sell his car: more than $18,000. That's $1,360 in tolls and more than $16,000 in penalties.

The department says they tried to bill Rose but their letters were returned. He will have to pay the tolls, but officials say they will try to work something out concerning the penalties.

KING-TV reports a lawyer has filed a class-action lawsuit against the department concerning its policies.

Toll agency impounds car for failure to pay

Link to article here.

The toll road gestapo is coming for you...

NTTA impounds car of driver who had been banned from road
By BRANDON FORMBY
Dallas Morning News
January 29, 2015

Dallas-area toll dodgers who think the North Texas Tollway Authority has been bluffing about towing your car, take note: The agency impounded a scofflaw’s vehicle for the first time this week.

NTTA spokesman Michael Rey said a state trooper Tuesday pulled over Rochelle Sanders on the Dallas North Tollway in Plano after she’d been told multiple times that she was banned from agency roads for not paying her tolls.

The Garland resident owed the agency $2,700 in unpaid tolls and fees for 1,300 unpaid violations dating back to May. That pales next to the tens of thousands of dollars that some drivers owe for violations that stretch back for years.

Sanders could not be reached for comment. Rey said she opened a TollTag account Thursday morning and began paying what she owes.

Lawmakers in 2013 allowed toll agencies to ban from their roadways drivers who have racked up more than 100 unpaid tolls in a year. Those caught violating the ban can be ticketed or have their cars impounded on the spot.
The NTTA has cameras that scan license plate numbers, run them against a database of banned drivers and notify the agency’s operations center of a violator’s location. Dispatchers can then notify state troopers stationed on the roads.

The agency has banned more than 21,000 drivers. Sanders, who previously received a ticket for violating the ban, was the first driver to have a car impounded.

“You’re going to see more this in the future,” Rey said.

He said Sanders was in a toll enforcement zone, where the license-plate readers are set up near state troopers ready to pull over violators, but he wasn’t sure if that’s what prompted the stop.

Officials said Sanders had outstanding warrants unrelated to any toll violations and was arrested during the stop.
Rey said more than 3,500 drivers have begun paying their dodged tolls after the NTTA mailed them ban letters. He said it’s unfair to those who pay for the roads not to go after those who don’t. He said the agency encourages people to talk to the agency about payment plans and TollTags. Ignoring the bills, he said, won’t work.

“This isn’t going away,” he said.

Empower Texans: Fiscal responsibility first with transportation

Link to article here.

Transportation Reform: Fiscal Responsibility First
January 26, 2015
By Ross Kecseg
Empower Texans

Predictably, the Austin establishment is calling for higher taxes, rainy-day raids and further expansion of “regionally managed” toll lanes as a means to finance roadway expansion. But before Texans allow more money to be indiscriminately thrown at transportation, the legislature should first reform the use of existing tax revenue.

The most obvious reform is to reduce motor fuel sales tax diversions, which currently sends 52% of tax revenue away from road projects and debt service. Even the federally mandated, state subsidized, liberal leaning planning bodies like North Texas’ Regional Transportation Council (RTC) oppose these diversions.

Doing so would likely require several other structural reforms to state budgeting; such as eliminating non-essential programs and agencies, dedicating future revenue streams to transportation, reforming the budgeting process to prioritize core conservative principles, and enacting stricter spending growth limits—all of which will enrage the lobbying class.

Traffic projections for Trinity Toll Road can be kept secret, says AG

Link to article here.

We've been trying to get this data made public ever since Rick Perry made it secret in 2007. We MUST have openess and transparanecy with this data - the pulci has a right to know if a toll road will be financially solvent BEFORE decisions are made, bond debt issued, or other public money committed.

Trinity Parkway traffic and toll estimates can be withheld, AG says
By BRANDON FORMBY This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Transportation Writer
Published: 26 January 2015

The North Texas Tollway Authority has spent 15 years and more than $1.7 million estimating the traffic impact and revenue potential of the proposed Trinity Parkway.

The agency collected the habits of Dallas drivers, the effect of various access points and how the toll road would affect nearby land usage.

That information could bolster or undercut arguments surrounding the project. It could also give a deeper understanding of the project’s potential risks and payoffs.

But the NTTA doesn’t have to share any of the information with the public.