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.

“It’s fairly burdensome to a whole lot of our families and businesses,” said Sanford, R-McKinney.

Some of the measures could face major hurdles, as transportation agencies will be reluctant to suddenly lose the option of using toll revenues to build new highways throughout Texas. But the Collin County lawmakers have tapped into two mounting forces. One is strong political support for steering existing tax streams to transportation construction. The other is a bubbling opposition to toll roads, which is especially fervent in the cities the men represent.

“We don’t believe toll roads ought to be on the table at this point,” said Leach, R-Plano.

The Collin trio’s collection of legislation could complicate – or potentially halt – several projects in North Texas, including the controversial Trinity Parkway in Dallas and plans to add the nation’s largest network of managed toll lanes to area highways.

The bills could also fundamentally change how several agencies finance new road construction. That includes the North Texas Tollway Authority, the Texas Transportation Commission that oversees the TxDOT and the Regional Transportation Council that steers federal funds to the North Texas mobility plan it creates.

Sanford said the bills aren’t aimed at particular projects or agencies. Instead, he said, they’re meant to move transportation agencies away from relying on tolls as the primary financing mechanism for each new project.

Drivers in Collin County, he said, complain often about how they’re surrounded on three sides by toll roads.

“We hear almost in the next sentence, ‘If we knew this road someday would be paid off, it’d be OK,’” Sanford said.

State Reps. Jeff Leach, Scott Sanford and Matt Shaheen have filed nine bills aimed at eventually eliminating toll roads in Texas. Here’s a look at the bills:

HB 202: Sends half of motor vehicle sales tax to the state highway fund; prohibits use of funds on toll projects

HB 203: Sends auto parts sales tax to the state highway fund; prohibits use of funds on toll projects

HB 1183: Requires county commissioners courts to approve new toll projects

HB 1834: Requires tolls to be removed once a project is paid off; calls for county commissioner court approval of new toll projects

HB 1835: Prohibits Texas Department of Transportation from adding tolled managed lanes to existing free highways

HB 1836: Sends 10 percent of sales taxes to the state highway fund; prohibits use of funds on toll projects

HB 1837: Requires tolls roads to be paid off in 20 years; calls for county commissioner courts to approve the study, design and construction phases of a new toll project

HB 1838: Requires TxDOT to give legislators in 2016 plans for turning existing toll roads into free roadways within 30 years

HB 1734: Requires toll projects to become free roads after construction and financing costs are paid off
Link to article here.

Proposed bill would put sunset clause on Texas tollways
February 23, 2015
By Kimberly Reeves
Austin Business Journal

Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, doesn't mind rocking the boat during his first session in the House: He has filed a bill that, if passed, would return toll roads to the state highway system once revenue bonds are paid in full.

That's a bold statement, given that North Texas has the largest and oldest system of tolled roads in the state. Shaheen may be in his first session, but he's not stranger to the Capitol. Shaheen, a former Collin County commissioner , was an active member of the Conference of Urban Counties.

" HB 1734 returns tolling to its traditional purpose: a temporary funding mechanism that is removed once the roads are fully paid off," Shaheen said in a statement he issued on Monday. "We cannot allow the toll fees for roads we use every day to become a de facto tax into perpetuity."

The bill would also limit the North Texas Tollway Authority's ability to renegotiate its toll road financing if it extends the term of the bonds.

NTTA, asked for a response to HB 1734, said no toll road operates alone. Instead, roads are added into a grid, or system, in order to operate together. It is the system, not the road, that leverages tolls and provides additional transportation options.

"By using system-financing, the NTTA is able to improve mobility for the entire region by providing more transportation choices for drivers and transportation funding alternatives for North Texas," said NTTA spokesman Michael Rey. "Without system financing, hundreds of miles of roads would not have been built - including non-tolled roads."

Link to article here.

Texas Bill Would Reform Toll Roads
Texas state lawmaker would mandate the transformation of toll roads into freeways after they are paid off.
February 25, 2015

One of the least commonly fulfilled political promises is that a road's tolls will go away once the construction loans have been paid off. The officials making such assurances know that they will be long gone before the loans are paid twenty to ninety years in the future. Texas state Representative Matt Shaheen (R-Collin County) hopes to change the state of affairs with legislation forcing the conversion of toll roads into freeways with a bill he introduced on Monday.

Most commonly, toll road obligations are continually extended so that they are never fully paid off. In California, for instance, the floundering Foothill-Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency decided to refinance the bonds for the 241, 261 and 133 toll roads in Orange County. So instead of the roads returning to the taxpayers in 2040, as originally promised, they cannot return until 2053 -- or later, if the debt is restructured again. The Texas proposal would outlaw this form of refinancing.

"A toll project entity may not amend a financing or other agreement in a manner that would extend the date by which a toll project would become part of the state highway system," House Bill 1734 states.

The measure would prevent government entities from dipping into the "surplus revenue" of toll projects to fund anything other than maintaining the turnpike and paying off its debt. It would also mandate that a toll road become a freeway once the costs of acquisition and construction of the road are settled.

"House Bill 1734 returns tolling to its traditional purpose: a temporary funding mechanism that is removed once the roads are fully paid-off," Shaheen explained in a statement. "We cannot allow the toll fees for roads we use every day to become a de facto tax into perpetuity."

Some toll roads are returned to the public after they are paid off. Motorists had been paying tolls for twenty years on the GA 400 near Atlanta, Georgia. The construction bonds had been paid off in 2009, but transportation officials insisted on continuing toll collection. Governor Nathan Deal (R) intervened, ordering the toll booths demolished in 2013.

A copy of the legislation is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: House Bill 1734 (Texas Legislature, 2/23/2015)