Just when you think you've seen it all, something else happens that still manages to shock you. Well, this mean-spirirted editorial by State Rep. Jason Villalba and Dallas Councilman Adam McGough takes toll road politics to a whole new level. Read this outrageous hit piece that actually claims the survival of the Dallas area as a 'world class city' depends on a toll lane on I-635 East. Our response is below it.
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EDITORIAL: Villalba and McGough: Stop stalling the LBJ 635 East Project
By Jason Villalba and Adam McGough
Dallas Morning News
April 4, 2016
When running for political office in North Texas, whether for State Senate, the Texas House or the Dallas City Council, one quickly learns there is a single issue that unifies all citizens, political parties, business leaders, chambers of commerce, rotary clubs and community groups. To a person, all agree there is a current and growing need for more robust and efficient transportation infrastructure in Dallas County and all of North Texas.
Nowhere is this problem more salient than on Highway 635 from Central Expressway to Interstate Highway 30. The congestion, disrepair and clumsy layout of the primary transport artery in the north east quadrant of the county becomes evident after driving just a few minutes on that roadway.
As Dallas continues to grow at a pace that eclipses the rest of the state, our elected officials must endeavor to immediately find and implement solutions that address these needs in a way that works for all of our citizenry and our businesses. In the age of righteous indignation and well-intentioned fealty to ideological shibboleths, Dallas simply cannot afford to stand athwart the progress that is such a vital component of our growth and survival as a world class city.
And yet, certain of our officials continue to do just that. Anger and good intentions may win at the ballot box, but they will not fund the projects necessary to keep our highways running smoothly and efficiently.
No Texan, including the authors of this editorial, wants to utilize tolled roads to address our transportation shortfalls. We recognize that the hard working people of Texas pay their taxes to the state and that the state owes them a duty to find a way to provide the necessary services of government, including transportation. A tolled highway can, in some cases, become an additional tax on drivers.
But with respect to the proposed plan to create seven new lanes (each way) on Highway 635 from Central Expressway to IH-30, a project often referred to as the LBJ 635 East Project, the toll lanes are managed. This means you will only drive on a tolled lane if you choose to do so, similar to the Disney Fast Pass, which allows visitors to the theme parks to pay a fee to save a place in line. If you want to skip traffic at a busy hour or take advantage of a guaranteed travel speed to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a managed toll lane will give you that opportunity. If you aren’t in a rush, you can choose not to pay. That is not a tax. That is Texas-style freedom.
The experts with the Department of Transportation and the Regional Transportation Council tell us that without the managed toll lanes, the LBJ 635 East Project will either never get completed in its current proposed form or will take more than twice as long to complete than currently projected. Yet, State Senators Don Huffines and Bob Hall, neither of whom have any particular expertise in transportation, have fought vociferously and adamantly to oppose any project whatsoever that contains a tolled component. These principled positions might be admirable if they were not so detrimental to those who are impacted every day by such inaction. The lack of construction sound walls and the presence of unwieldy and severe congestion on 635 East make it one of the most unpleasant and dangerous stretches of highway in the region.
The citizens of Dallas should be outraged at this intransigence. We should be well on our way to getting the transportation infrastructure our great city needs. And yet here we stand, into the second quarter of 2016 and eight short months until the next legislative session, and not one shovel of dirt has been moved to fix one of Dallas’ most pressing problems.
The time is now for real and courageous leadership on the issue of transportation in Dallas. The authors of this opinion piece and many other elected officials in the region stand with you, the people of Dallas, Garland and Mesquite, and we demand that the LBJ 635 East Project, in its current proposed form, be approved and initiated immediately. We ask you to call your senator, state house representative or city council member and urge them to approve the proposed changes or to explain to you why they oppose progress for Dallas. This issue is simply too important to wait on the sidelines while the just-say-no caucus finds its way.
Unlike Villalba and McGough, anti-toll champions, Senator Bob Hall and Senator Don Huffnes, are actually working to fix LBJ East without raising taxes rather than hide behind the empty propaganda of a politcially motivated editorial. Shame on the Dallas Morning News for allowing such an attack piece to run in its paper without at least giving the other side equal time on the same page.
These two senators campaigned against toll roads and won their races against entrenched incumbents who supported and voted for toll roads. Huffines even knocked out the former Senate Tranpsortation Committee Chair, John Carona. They stand with Governor Greg Abbott who also campaigned with the promise to fix our roads without raising taxes, fees, or tolls, and he was elected by a wide margin over his pro-toll opponent, Wendy Davis. So it's clear what the voters want and it ain't more toll roads.
Elected officials have a duty to represent their constituents and to keep their campaign promises. Villalba and McGough claim that these senators are somehow causing some sort of delay in fixing Interstate 635 East (from US-75 to I-30) yet few have worked harder to prioritize this project and secure funding for expansion of I-635 E and to do it without tolls.
Villalba neglects to mention that the Texas Senate made Prop 7 a priority and passed it early last session as one of Governor Abbott’s emergency items. However, the House dragged its feet and delayed passage until the final days of the session. Together with Prop 1 and finally ending many of the diversions of the state gasoline tax to non-road purposes amounts to the largest infusion of road funding in Texas history. TxDOT said it needed $5 billion a year to stop having to resort to toll roads, and thanks to our great new senators Bob Hall and Don Huffines, TxDOT now has $5 billion a year more in the state highway fund for non-toll projects.
Building and maintaining roads and infrastructure is one of the core functions of government, and it's clealry a top priority for both senators since they both sit on the Senate Transportation Committee. Villalba, however, is the one with no transportation experience. He's never sat on the House Transportation Committee or lifted a finger to help stop the toll onslaught or address transportation issues as a House member. In contrast, Senators Hall and Huffines promised to fight toll roads and that’s exactly what they're doing.
Villalba and McGough also claim tolls are needed in order to fund I-635 E. Yet the Texas Department of Transportation’s traffic and revenue studies show that tolls are insufficient to fund the proposed tolled portion of this project. So pushing tolls on I-635 E is a double tax scheme since tolls are not remotely economically feasible and tax dollars are needed to make any toll scenario work. That's double taxation and it's unacceptable.
Villalba and McGough whine that “elected officials must endeavor to immediately find and implement solutions that address these needs in a way that works for all of our citizenry.” Yet, toll lanes are designed to price the vast majority of drivers out of the lanes, so tolling is not a solution that ‘works.'
Let's not forget who the real beneficiary of a tolled I-635 E is -- Cintra. Cintra operates and collects the enormously expensive tolls on I-635 W that, conveniently, feeds right into the proposed toll lanes on I-635 E.
In fact, such 'congestion pricing’ actually bases the toll rate on the level of congestion, not the actual cost of building the project or retiring its debt. So during peak hours, Texans pay a premium to drive.
Tolls don’t equal ‘progress,’ or 'Texas-style freedom,' but rather they represent Rick Perry's failed toll-leveraged debt model that allows big spending politicians like Villalba an easy way out of fiscal restraint, which would be funding priorities instead of more waste. All citizens, not just the elites deserve equal access to our state highways. Advocating a runaway tax on Texans is far from ‘courageous leadership,’ it's tired political rhetoric from the past to cloak an economically unfeasible toll project as the silver bullet to traffic problems.