DFW board defies Abbott's 'No toll' pledge to lobby for privately-operated toll roads

Link to article here.

It's no surprise that the federally-funded North Texas Regional Transportation Council will once again lobby for more toll roads, specifically public private partnerships that cost drivers' a premium in peak hours, but it's particularly offensive given the economic downturn and what are likely permanent changes to traffic patterns now that millions of Texans have shown they can work from home and stay productive. Toll road debt is more risky than ever as the toll industry asked congress for a $9.2 billion bailout earlier this year due to coronavirus lockdowns. Who knows what the future of road tax revenues will look like post-COVID.

Regional Planning Council Prioritizes High-Speed Rail and Toll Lanes as Part of Legislative Agenda
As the 87th legislative session commences in January, local officials plan to advocate for increased funding for transportation projects including high-speed rail and the ability to utilize toll roads and managed lanes.

By Kim Roberts
The Texan
November 13, 2020

As the 87th Texas Legislative Session approaches its commencement in January, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) Regional Transportation Council (RTC) has approved its legislative program.

The council plans to promote and support legislation in four primary areas: (1) funding transportation and transit projects, (2) expanding transportation options in mega-metropolitan regions, (3) pursuing innovation, technology, and safety, and (4) improving air quality.

The legislative priorities of the RTC will be transmitted to the members of the legislature.

Vision Zero: Houston's anti-car policies to force you out of your car and into transit

Link to article here.

This is the new frontier in road policy -- putting drivers on a 'road diet' as they do in leftist states like California and New York, to force people out of their cars and into mass transit. It must be stopped in every form. Tolls are just one way they use to restrict travel and try to change drivers' behavior to fit their social justice agenda. Currently, tolls aren't an available option, but that doesn't stop them from implementing other forms of driver misery to enact their anti-car agenda.

Houston to Unveil Vision Zero Plan for Zero Traffic Fatalities by 2030
Mayor Turner says the city is close to releasing specifics of transportation planning that may include narrowing streets to slow traffic and increasing sidewalks, bike lanes, and access to public transit.

By Holly Hansen
The Texan
November 9, 2020

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Texas’ largest city would soon be unveiling specifics of an initiative to attain zero roadway deaths by the year 2030.

Joined in a Friday afternoon press conference by Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan, Turner said that the city had been collecting information and would soon be publicizing new plans crafted in collaboration with city departments, Harris County, METRO, and social justice advocates.

Turner and Ryan noted that as of November 7, Texas had not gone a day without at least one traffic death in 20 years, and both expressed support for instituting changes that would eventually eliminate all traffic deaths.

“No loss of life is acceptable,” said Turner. “That’s why Houston joined the Vision Zero network, an international movement for safe streets and our commitment to end traffic deaths and serious injuries on Houston streets by 2030.”

Developed in the 1990s by Swedish activists, “Vision Zero” refers to efforts to craft transportation policies based on the socio-political ethic: “Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society.”

Harris County hatches plan to bypass state law, keep tolls in perpetuity

Link to article here.

This is a deliberate attempt to bypass state law and use toll revenues in any way the county wishes. This is why taxpayers need the protection of Sen. Bob Hall and Rep. Matt Shaheen's bill to remove the toll once the road is paid for and halt these gimmicks used to keep tolls in place FOREVER and use them as politicians' personal slush funds.

Harris County Toll Revenues Redirected to County Coffers
A Harris County plan will “sell” toll roads to a newly created government corporation and allow toll road revenues to be spent on unrelated projects.

By Holly Hansen
The Texan
September 18, 2020

Democrats on the Harris County Commissioners Court have successfully pushed through a controversial plan that shifts toll road system funds into county coffers and circumvents original restrictions on how tollway revenues may be used.

Approved by voters in 1983, the Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) has managed construction, operation, and maintenance of a network of toll roads facilitating traffic through and around the heavily congested Greater Houston area and beyond for more than 30 years.
 
HCTRA has managed to accumulate $1.6 billion in cash on hand, with about $2.7 billion in bonds. Under the current structure, bond conditions and state law limit the use of these funds to transportation infrastructure and related facilities.

At last Tuesday’s commissioners court meeting, newly appointed Budget Director David Berry recommended a plan to circumvent restrictions and “provide more efficient funding” for other projects in Harris County.

Under the new plan, Harris County will create a Local Governance Corporation (LGC), to which they will then sell the existing toll road system. Existing HCTRA bonds will be paid off and reissued under lower rates, but also without the previous restrictions on surplus funds.

County slaps $94 ticket on drivers who avoid toll lanes

Link to article here.

Virginia Restricts Use Of Public Roads In Neighborhoods
Fairfax County, Virginia to ban drivers from turning onto free public roads based on residency.

Virginia for the past several years has been turning its freeways into toll roads. A ride on Interstate 66 into Washington, DC, for example can cost as much as $44 one way. Motorists attempting to avoid these fees by taking neighborhood roads could soon be thwarted with a ban on entering certain free, public roads for vehicles that fail to display a special resident permit for that neighborhood.

Legislature fails to deliver for toll-weary drivers

Lawmakers leave without giving drivers toll tax relief

By Terri Hall
May 28, 2019

Sometimes a win isn’t gauged by what you pass, but by what you stopped. The results of the 86th legislative session are definitely the later. In short, the taxpayers got very little as far as toll tax relief. With 28 different toll systems and 55 toll projects in place today, without passing toll cessation Texas drivers will never see an end to paying toll taxes nor an end to toll agencies expanding their existing systems out further and further — forever. However, the grassroots opposition to five bad toll road bills that would have handed Texas’ public highways to private, foreign entities in 50-year sweetheart deals along with other giveaways to private toll companies, managed to kill all of them -- the worst being HB 1951 by Matt Krause, a member of the Freedom Caucus.

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) alone (not to mention the other 12 local toll agencies across the state) has put more than two million Texas drivers into collections for unpaid tolls. Just TxDOT has imposed over $1 billion in fines and fees in addition to the actual tolls owed. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (Austin area) testified before the Senate Transportation Committee last August that of the $100 million its collected in tolls, $85 million was fines and fees. Toll fines and fees are out of control and making Texas drivers virtually an unlimited ATM machine to feed relentless unelected toll bureaucracies — in short, tolling has become a license to steal.

GOUGING: Cintra soaks commuters, charges $3/mile to drive privatized toll lanes on North Tarrant Express

Link to article here.

On this Texas toll road, drivers want to know why they’re paying $15 for just 5 miles
Why some Fort Worth toll roads are charging up to $15
By Gordon Dickson
April 23, 2019
Ft. Worth Star Telegram

Some North Texas drivers say they're alarmed that tolls on some of the Dallas-Fort Worth region's TEXPress lanes are skyrocketing to as much as $15, up from just $1 during less heavily-traveled periods.

Susan Forbes could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the price posted on the electronic sign, which pointed the way to an entrance for the TEXPress toll lanes on Texas 183 in Bedford.

She was about to enter a toll road that would charge her $15 for a distance of less than six miles.

Tolls hit nearly $50 to go 10 miles into DC on I-66

Link to article here.

Toll price of express lane in Washington D.C. spikes to $46 for Tuesday morning commute
Fox 5 - D.C.
May 14, 2019

How much does it cost to get to D.C. from I-66? 

On Tuesday, a commuter posted a photo on Twitter showing the toll road nearly reaching $50!

The amount has hit the wallets hard for solo drivers traveling the nine-mile stretch between Interstate 495 and Route 29 in Rosslyn. Those who carpool are able to use the Express Lanes for free. Single drivers have to pay the toll Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. in the eastbound direction, and from 3 to 7 p.m. in the westbound direction.

Transit agency would add to Texas transit boondoggles

Link to article here.

Commentary: Mega Transit Agency in Valley Can’t Fix What’s Wrong with Transit Failures

The Texas Legislature needs to ‘Just Say No’ to creating a new Regional Transit Authority.


Frustrated by our lack of progress on limited-government, conservative principles in this session of the Texas Legislature?

When you see which transportation bills are moving over others, it’s hard to fathom how a bill to create a massive new transit bureaucracy that can issue bonds, charge tolls, and do no-bid contracts of all sorts takes precedence over things like reforming a toll collection system that’s financially ruining millions of Texas drivers.

There’s been plenty of bad press surrounding the failure of transit both nationally and in Texas, so the legislature needs to ‘Just Say No’ to creating a new Regional Transit Authority as proposed in House Bill 71 (Martinez) and Senate Bill 1721 (Lucio).

Federal lawmakers fear backlash to gas tax hike

Link to article here.

Gas tax for infrastructure sparks fears of political backlash

By: |   Intermodal News


Democrats and Republicans are quick to talk up a bipartisan infrastructure deal. Yet neither party wants to take the political risk of paying for it when all options are toxic—including the obvious choice of raising the national gas tax.

Increasing the gas tax is so politically fraught that it hasn’t been touched in 26 years and it didn’t even come up at a meeting at the White House Tuesday between President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to discuss an infrastructure plan.

California local governments push congestion tax to get into LA

Link to article here.

California Cities Push Congestion Tax
Southern California governments lobby to impose congestion tax on Los Angeles motorists.
The Newspaper.com
April 4, 2019

A group of California counties and cities is desperate to join European colleagues in imposing a congestion tax on commuters. The Southern California Association of Governments issued a federally funded report last week exploring the feasibility of tolling drivers who enter downtown Los Angeles, raising money for transit and bicycle lanes.

The study looked at various LA neighborhoods to determine where gridlock could best be exploited to raise funds. The options included Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Hollywood, the downtown area, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica and Westside. The researchers said the tax would increase the number of people using bicycles by nine percent and walking by seven percent. According to the report, Angelenos will enjoy paying the charge because of these benefits.

TxDOT puts two million drivers into collections over unpaid tolls

Link to KXAN news story here.

TxTag Troubles: Nearly $1 billion added to TxTag accounts as billing woes continue
By Sarah Rafique, Brittany Glas, Josh Hinkle & Ben Friberg
KXAN-TV News
August 2018

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Mela Louviere let out a laugh when she opened a collections letter for her TxTag toll account earlier in June. The bill showed she owed $5,750 in administrative fees for only $412.85 in toll usage.

“We assumed there had to be some sort of computing error, human error, something,” said Louviere, of Pflugerville. “There had to be something mistaken because we hadn’t done anything that was worth $6,000.”

It wasn’t an error. According to a Houston-based collections agency, her account was overdue and she was hit with a $25 penalty for each individual toll.

Louviere isn’t alone. This year, more than 2.2 million Texas toll accounts had a bill sent to the agency Perdue Brandon Fielder Collins & Mott, who added nearly $1 billion in fees to drivers’ accounts, according to information obtained by KXAN through an open records request. And, the number of Texans affected could be even higher since the Texas Department of Transportation, which oversees TxTag, said each account could have more than one vehicle tied to it.

FAKE toll road reform bill peddled by lobbyists guts true reform

DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE FAKE TOLL ROAD REFORM BILL - KILL HB 1951

What could be wrong with legislation called the ‘Toll Payer Protection Act’?


Well, despite its name and its Texas Freedom Caucus author, HB 1951 is a special interest bill written by lobbyists for the benefit of their clients in the Big Road Lobby. The true grassroots-supported legislation for taxpayer-friendly reforms are SB 374 (Hall) / HB 436 (Shaheen) — genuine toll cessation and SB 382 (Hall) — toll collection reform.

A Bill Analysis: Why HB 1951 is a Special Interest FAKE Toll Road Reform Bill


Article I -
HB 1951 authorizes Comprehensive Development Agreements (the term used in Texas statute for public private partnership toll roads) and design-build contracts for projects over $1 billion (which is most projects in our urban areas). This is a non-starter for taxpayers. Why? Public Private Partnerships (or P3s) hand our public highways over to private, foreign corporations in 50 year monopolies with guaranteed profits, taxpayer bailouts, and the ability to charge punitively high tolls (like LBJ in DFW that can top $24/day in peak hours). See this policy brief with details and examples of why P3s are corporate welfare and anti-taxpayer. Both the Texas Democratic and Republican Party platforms have planks opposing privatized toll roads.

SHAFTED: Patrick deals blow to toll opponents by removing allies from committee

Patrick gives toll opponents a raw deal with new Senate Transportation Committee

By Terri Hall
January 21, 2019

Senator Bob HallLt. Governor Dan Patrick announced committee assignments for the 86th session of the Texas Senate last week, and there’s no way to sugar coat it — toll opponents got shafted. The most notable shake-up on the Senate Transportation Committee is the removal of Vice Chair Senator Bob Hall from the committee. Four years ago, a group of freshmen senators known for being the fabulous eight took the Texas Senate by storm and ushered in a new era of conservatism in the upper chamber. Hall, Don Huffines, Lois Kolkhorst, Charles Perry, and Brandon Creighton were part of that group and their appointment to the Senate Transportation Committee was considered a gift by Patrick to the grassroots for creating a deliberate, conservative voting block on what had been a crony capitalist, pro-toll committee controlled by toll road special interests.

Senator Don Huffines was removed last session at the behest of the pro-toll committee chairman, Senator Robert Nichols, which began to erode the grassroots voting block. Huffines had filed a whopping 11 anti-toll bills his freshman session, so the loss of Huffines was bad enough. He was replaced with Kelly Hancock, whose Warren Buffet bill to get special access to the Texas auto market for special interests while continuing to exclude others, got slapped down by the grassroots quicker than a gnat on your knee. Hancock also made a comment during an interim committee hearing on toll collection reform advocating for a barricade blocking Texas drivers from tollways until they paid their toll bills similar to an airport parking lot that won’t let you out until you pay up. He was tapped to replace Hall as Vice Chair. Creighton was also taken off the committee. While Perry remains on the committee, many view Senator Kolkhorst as the only vocal toll opponent left on the committee.

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.”