Toll-Free Texas: Reform Package - 2015

TollFree Texas graphic 300Read this for a full review of how the Toll-Free Texas' Day at the capitol.

Package details and related press releases: “The citizen groundswell against toll proliferation in Texas is heartening to see. Texans unfortunately have experienced firsthand how interstate tolling can stifle economic productivity and tax-away prosperity, unfairly penalize drivers with fines for tolls they don’t owe, and restrict access to roads paid for by the public. The efforts of Toll Free Texas are commendable and reflect a broader awareness by people that tolls are the worst possible way to fund roads.”
~ Julian Walker, spokesman for Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI)

Austin’s complete streets policy a complete nightmare

Link to article here.

Austin’s ‘complete streets’ policy a complete congestion nightmare
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
March 9, 2015

Austin’s social engineering is in full bloom. In an attempt to punish drivers and force them into a bus, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) drafted a new long-range plan, 2040 Regional Transportation Plan, chalk-full of ‘complete streets’ nonsense like tearing up auto lanes and converting them into bus only lanes. CAMPO will hold a public meeting on the plan tonight at the University of Texas LBJ Auditorium starting at 6 PM.

Riverside Drive, South Congress, North Lamar, Guadalupe, Burnet Road and several other major thoroughfares, will all lose two traffic lanes. Those lanes will be turned into Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes. No cars allowed.

Privacy threats: Electronic invasion, license plate readers to black boxes, drivers under assault

Link to article here.

Opinion: US Senator Reports On Automobile Privacy Threat
US Senator Ed Markey condemns automobile manufacturers for privacy invasions promoted by the federal government.
The Newspaper.com
February 13, 2015

Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) on Monday released a report on automotive privacy highlighting the failure of vehicle manufacturers to ensure the highest levels of security and privacy. The report examined the measures industry has taken to prevent electronic intrusion and the way companies gather and treat sensitive personal information. Markey concluded that government intervention may be appropriate.

"New standards are needed to plug security and privacy gaps in our cars and trucks," Markey's news release explained. "We need to work with the industry and cyber-security experts to establish clear rules of the road to ensure the safety and privacy of 21st-century American drivers."

Abbott Taps Two for Transportation Commission

Link to article here.

Abbott Taps Two for Transportation Commission
by Aman Batheja
Texas Tribune
Feb. 13, 2015

Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday he was appointing former state Rep. Tryon Lewis and San Antonio banker J. Bruce Bugg Jr. to the Texas Transportation Commission. Both appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Bugg will replace Commission Chairman Ted Houghton, and Lewis will replace Commissioner Fred Underwood, Abbott spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said. Abbott has not yet said who will be the commission's new chair. The five-member commission oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.

Lewis, an Odessa Republican, was a state representative from 2008 to 2015 and served a stint as chairman of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee. Prior to that, he was a state district judge from 1985 to 2006. He is currently a partner at the Atkins, Hollmann Jones, Peacock, Lewis & Lyon Law Firm in Odessa.

Bugg is a former senior adviser to Gov. Rick Perry and a former chairman of TexasOne, a quasi-governmental agen­cy that served as Perry’s chief marketing tool to draw businesses to Texas. He is also chairman of the boards of the Bank of San Antonio and Argyle Investments Co., a private investment firm, and president of Texas Hill Country Bancshares.

“Bruce Bugg and Tryon Lewis will be effective voices for accelerating economic expansion, growing jobs and improving infrastructure without raising taxes, fees or tolls,” Abbott said in a statement. “I look forward to working with them in providing permanent solutions to our state’s transportation challenges.”

Problems with ‘market driven’ road maintenance approach

Link to article here.

Though this is a very partisan viewpoint, her points about the pitfalls of road privatization are spot-on.

Problems with ‘market driven’ road maintenance approach
By Judy Ferro
Idaho Press
February 16, 2015

Recently Sen. Jeff Siddoway helped me realize that not all Republican legislators who’ve supported measures designed to destroy the public schools want to destroy the public schools. Now I’m hoping that Idaho also has Republican legislators who don’t realize that measures they support are designed to end public ownership of roads and bridges.

Sound impossible? Check out this headline from Bloomberg.com, “CPP Investment Board to buy 10 percent of 407 Toll Road for About $878 million.” That’s right. Corporations with $2 trillion sitting in banks are seeking profitable investments. Maybe people can’t afford to buy new things, but they’ll pay for necessities like roads.

Republicans claim that we can’t take care of roads and bridges today because we can’t pay for them. Never mind that in the 1950s — definitely not boom years — we embarked on an interstate highway system that was the envy of the world. Republicans then supported building roads because such long-term investments would help both businesses and people. For Democrats, there was the added bonus of good-paying jobs. Today’s Republican leadership, however, is more interested in making the rich even richer.

Since 2008, the transportation policy of ALEC — the American Legislative Exchange Council — has called for a “market-driven highway system” and “private investment in highway projects.”

“Tolling,” charging to use roads, is the subject of five of its seven principles. Do I need to remind you that several Idaho legislators are ALEC members? Loyola University economics professor Walter Block published a major book urging privatizing roads in 2009. Ted Stossel, Peter Samuel, David Klein and Linda and Morris Tannehill have echoed his call. Most cite “reducing congestion” as the No. 1 argument for privatizing.

Road crowded? Just charge more. Make those who can’t afford a $5 toll each day to crowd into side streets so the paying customers can cruise without delays. Economics professor Bruce L. Benson suggests privatizing even those side roads and giving the owners the power to police the environs so they can guarantee the safety of their customers.

Just how high would tolls have to be to provide a private police force? Powerful people who crusade against “one more cent” in taxes aren’t worried about your pocketbook. They have no qualms about you having to pay whatever the market will bear to corporations like Toll Road Investors or CPP Investments. And toll supporters don’t have to convince the public to support privatization. They just have to prevent us from maintaining our decaying roads and bridges long enough that fear of death or injury builds.

A collapsing bridge killing a dozen or more and embroiling the state in lawsuits would be a boon for them. And once we let our roads and bridges go, the chances of buying them back are nil. How do we retain our public infrastructure? To start off, we should follow Siddoway’s lead and give maintaining our roads and bridges a higher priority than new tax cuts. Idaho already collects the least taxes per person of any state.

Then we should spread the cost over a number of measures. Legislators are considering increasing user fees for long-haul trucks, vehicle registration fees and the gas tax. (It’s doubtful congressional Republicans can increase the federal gas tax; the Koch brothers and other oil billionaires are against it.)

There is also talk of increasing the sales tax another cent. Or we could add a new income tax bracket, perhaps charging an extra 0.5 percent for those making over $140,000 a year. None of these options is appealing. But paying tolls to visit the kids in Moscow could be a lot worse.

* Judy Ferro is the state committeewoman for Canyon County Democrats.

Transportation Reform: Restore Local Control, Accountability

Link to article here.

Terrific article on MPOs, their importance, and why they need to be fixed.

Transportation Reform: Restore Local Control, Accountability
By Ross Kesceg
Empower Texans
February 16, 2015

Before throwing more tax money at a misunderstood transportation crisis, the legislature should first maximize the effectiveness of existing funds. But in addition to placing restrictions on how tax dollars are used, the legislature should also restrict the ability of regional governments to undermine sound policy.

The culprits behind most of Texas’ non-road transportation waste are Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). They are federally mandated planning bureaucracies that have taken control of “voluntary” regional governments created by the legislature, such as the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). COGs claim to help local governments coordinate projects, but in reality, they are an unnecessary layer of government one-step removed from voters that takes power away from locally elected officials.

5 ways privatization is fleecing American taxpayers

5 ways privatization is fleecing American taxpayers
Salon.com
February 2015

Government outsourcing goes horribly wrong more often than not. Here are a few representative horror stories

For decades we’ve been subjected to constant propaganda that government is inefficient, bureaucratic and expensive. We’re told that the answer is to “privatize,” or “outsource” government functions to private businesses and they will do things more efficiently and everyone comes out ahead. As a result we have experienced decades of privatization of government functions.

So how has this wave of privatization worked out? Has privatization saved taxpayers money and improved services to citizens? Simple answer: of course not. If a company can make a profit doing something the government had been doing, it means that we're losing out one way or another. It’s simple math. And the result of falling for the privatization scam is that taxpayers have been fleeced, services to citizens have been cut way back and communities have been made poorer. But the companies that convinced governments to hand over public functions have gotten rich off of the deal. How is this a surprise?

To read the rest of the story, click here.

Collin County lawmakers file 9 anti-toll bills

Link to article here.

3 lawmakers from Collin County take aim at toll roads with 9 new bills
By Brandon Formby
February 27, 2015
Dallas Morning News

North Texans with toll road fatigue have found champions in the Texas House. Reps. Jeff Leach, Scott Sanford and Matt Shaheen are pushing a series of nine bills that aim to dismantle the bureaucratic and financial mechanisms that have paved the way for a litany of toll projects in the state.

In North Texas alone, most highway projects under construction or in the works include some sort of tolling component. And because many involve private developers expecting profits, drivers are slated to continue paying tolls long after construction costs are recouped.

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.”