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.

Federal Agency Centralizes License Plate Spying Data

Link to article here.

Technology has become the enemy of personal liberty. There's no better example than the onslaught ocurring with motorists and the attempts to collect and mine data of our travel patterns and then criminalize us for it with tolls and other cameras that don't always tell the whole picture.

Federal Agency Centralizes License Plate Spying Data
Nationwide cameras track motorists for federal database centralized at the Drug Enforcement Administration.
January 27, 2015
The Newspaper.com

The federal government is harvesting information from a network of hundreds of spy cameras to develop a centralized database that tracks the movement of motorists not suspected of any wrongdoing. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on Monday released documents obtained from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that offer new details about how this national tracking program works.

The DEA's National License Plate Recognition Initiative uses a hundred automated license plate reader cameras (ALPR, known as ANPR in Europe) deployed in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, New Mexico and Texas. The information by the cameras is supplemented by thousands of cameras operated by other agencies with federal officials most anxious to use the technology to find automobiles and other property to seize.

"The pilot National LPR Initiative has received enormous support from all several government and law enforcement entitles and multiple request have been made to connect LPR devices from state and local law enforcement In anticipation of the pilot National LPR Initiative being utilized by all of DEA as well as federal, state and local law enforcement throughout the United States," a heavily redacted June 2010 DEA email explains. "We want to insure we can collect and manage all the data and IT responsibilities that will come with the work to insure the program meets its goals, of which asset forfeiture is primary."

Information shared between the Customs and Border Patrol agency with the DEA involved 794 million license plate reads over a four-year period. Local, state and federal police departments can search through the accumulated data stored by the DEA's El Paso Intelligence Center, which is accessible 24/7 through a system known as Firebird. The information is collected to "identify travel patterns" of motorists.

According to a July 2012 email, the DEA claims it stores license plate data belonging to innocent motorist for six months. The agency has released no information on what exceptions may apply or whether the policy has changed.

"As is the case with most police and federal law enforcement spy technologies, license plate tracking programs have flown under the radar of courts and legislators for far too long, silently collecting records about ordinary Americans in the cover of secrecy," ACLU analysts Bennett Stein and Jay Stanley wrote. "When programs are secret, we have no way of challenging them or ensuring they conform with our values and the law."

S. Carolina Governor proposes gas tax hike

Link to article here.

Here’s another Republican daring to propose a gasoline tax hike in South Carolina. She would offset it with an income tax break, but citizens don’t necessarily care for offsets, they want tax reduction. We’re not familiar with how the current state gas tax in South Carolina gets spent, but it’s like Texas and many other states, they need to end diversions of the gas tax to non-road purposes before asking taxpayers to dig deeper.

Traveling Haley route on roads makes sense
Editorial
January 23, 2015
The Times and Democrat

THE ISSUE: State of the State; OUR OPINION: With governor making proposal, lawmakers should get to work quickly in ironing out details

Identifying the problem is not difficult, but fixing South Carolina roads will be expensive. Gov. Nikki Haley knows it, South Carolina legislators know it and the people of the state should accept the fact.

In outlining her long-awaited plan for infrastructure in Wednesday night’s State of the State address, Haley shifted positions on the gasoline tax but did so with a condition.

She calls for:
* Promoting economic growth by cutting income taxes at all levels by 30 percent over the next 10 years.
* Adding 10 cents to the state’s gas tax over three years, offsetting a portion of the income tax savings with a priority on infrastructure spending.
* Dedicating motor vehicle sales taxes to roads, further diversifying funding streams for transportation.
* Restructuring the South Carolina Department of Transportation and refocusing the agency on maintaining roads as a first priority and doing so in an apolitical way.

Haley states her plan will invest $3.5 billion in roads over 10 years while dedicating almost $5.6 billion in tax relief for South Carolinians.

“This is the real investment in infrastructure that South Carolina needs, and one that doesn’t raise taxes and promotes economic growth,” she said in a prepared statement on the night of the address to lawmakers.

For their part, lawmakers such as new House Speaker Jay Lucas and Sen. Joel Lourie, who gave the Democratic response to the speech, offered praise for the governor and acknowledged her leadership role. While neither directly endorsed her approach on roads, lawmakers would be wise to use her plan as a serious jumping-off point for moving and moving quickly on the infrastructure issue.

The governor has earned the political capital to make her plan a top priority. And with lawmakers making it such, Haley will not be standing in the way of plans that seek a different approach.

The governor has focused on development in her four years in office and can boast of considerable success. But with business leaders such as Zeus Industrial Products CEO John Worley, writing in Thursday’s T&D, stating that road conditions are endangering development, Haley realizes that continued progress depends on action.

Currently, 46 percent of the state’s primary road system is in poor condition and 1,600, or a third of the bridges, are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. South Carolina has the additional challenge of owning the fourth-largest state highway system in the nation.

Next year alone South Carolina is projected to need more than $75 million just to maintain roads in their current condition. In 10 years, the amount will rise to be almost $200 million per year.

In total, the DOT has said it needs an additional $1.5 billion yearly for the next two decades just to bring roads to good condition.

The price tag is high and the timetable is long, but fixing the problem must begin now.

The current 16-cents-per-gallon gas tax has not changed since 1987. With an increase to 26 cents, the tax would still be below neighboring North Carolina’s 37.5 cents and in line with Georgia’s current 26.5 cents. It’s a price that has to be paid and should be supported.

TxDOT Spends Millions in Tuition Reimbursements

Link to article here.

More waste at TxDOT. Taxpayers pay TxDOT engineers for continuing education at PRIVATE, very epxensive universities. Cut the waste and get back to building highways!

TxDOT Spends Millions in Tuition Reimbursements
By Terri Langford, Bobby Blanchard and Becca Aaronson
Jan. 22, 2015
Texas Tribune

When it comes to reimbursing state employees for education costs, the Texas Department of Transportation is far more generous than other state agencies.

After reporting this month that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission paid a top aide's $97,020 MBA tuition, The Texas Tribune took a closer look at how much state agencies reimburse employees for education costs. Of the $23.8 million state agencies spent from 2002 to part of January 2015 on tuition, conferences and other educational programs for employees, close to half went to TxDOT staffers, according to data from the Texas comptroller’s office.

TxDOT spokeswoman Veronica Beyer could not explain why the agency spends much more on staffer education than other agencies. She said doing so helps the agency attract and retain the most talented staff.

Toll roads are elitist road system

Link to article here.

More reasons not to build toll roads
By Tom Jackson
Equipment World
January 19, 2015

As a follow up to my earlier post on the Texas SH 130 toll road, I wanted to elaborate on another reason why I think toll roads are a bad idea: elitism.

Tolls for me, free for thee
Most of the sophisticated toll systems today photograph your license plate or read an RFID transponder in your car, digitize the information and send you a bill at the end of the month. Pretty slick actually, and I don’t doubt that it’s less expensive than paying the salaries of toll collectors sitting in toll booths.

Man receives toll bill for a vehicle from another state that he does not own

Link to article here.

Man Keeps Receiving Toll Road Bill
The bill is for a vehicle from another state that he does not own
Jan 14, 2015
KRGV.com

MISSION - A Mission man said he has been battling with the Texas Department of Transportation for years. The problem is a TxTag toll bill he received by mistake.

The man called 5 On Your Side for help.

Elwood and Avis Hedin have been coming down to the Rio Grande Valley from Minnesota for years.

“It's very frustrating. When you are talking to a person, it's like talking to a machine,” said Elwood Hedin.

It was back in 2012 when Hedin first got a bill from the Texas Department of Transportation's TxTag Office, which handles toll roads.

He paid his small bill, but then started getting billed for another vehicle which was not his.