RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign

Link to article here.

RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign
By Terri Hall
September 18, 2014

You’ve probably heard the radio ads with Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) Chairman John Clamp touting the benefits of the US 281 toll project. If you’re like me, you got steaming mad that a toll authority is using our tax money to convince the public that tolling our existing freeways is a great idea.

I wanted to find out just how much money they’re sinking into this public relations campaign. An open records request revealed that they’ll spend up to $371,294 for radio and television ads, extensive newspaper ads, billboards, and a massive public ‘outreach’ campaign selling their toll road to your homeowners associations, civic groups, churches, chambers of commerce, and anyone that will let them in the door.

The primary contractor, HNTB, hired Trish DeBerry for the task, whose firm previously bid on the 281 toll project as part of a design-build team before her run for Mayor. Ultimately, the RMA has retained her PR services at a cost of $25,000 a month.

Think tank rips 'anti-toll housewife'

Link to article here.

Reason Foundation comes unhinged at populist revolt against tolls
By Terri Hall
August 27, 2014

Bob Poole
of the Reason Foundation has decided to pick a fight he can’t win.

He just published an article personally attacking anti-toll group leaders across the nation, and he had a extra special below-the-belt attack saved just for yours truly. He’s responding to the populist anti-toll revolt taking place in America, and he can’t help but go on the attack because these grassroots efforts are finally making progress. He’s lashing out in response to a 5-page cover story in the Weekly Standard that slammed the new rage among transportation think tanks like Reason, called HOT lanes. It stands for High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Sometimes they convert existing HOV lanes into toll lanes, other times they’re new lanes but only open to carpoolers and those who pay tolls.

The author, Jonathan Last, used many of the same terms to describe this wrong-headed policy as the anti-toll groups do - government picking winners and losers, crony capitalism, privatized profits, socialized losses, Lexus lanes, etc. If the shoes fits, and it does, it’s not hard for liberty-minded people to come to the same conclusions all by themselves. They can spot a scam when they see one. But Poole asks, ‘Where do these ideas come from?’ Or more to his point, who is promoting ideas in opposition to his libertarian ivory tower theory-world of road pricing?

Cintra's private meetings backfire in N.C.

Link to article and watch the tv report here.

Leaders, community question private meetings on toll lanes
By Jim Bradley
Wed., August 20, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Elected officials from towns north of Charlotte will have the chance to talk with the company that wants to build tolls lanes on Interstate 77 but the public won't be allowed in.

A series of private meetings have been set up for Thursday between the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Cintra and leaders in Huntersville, Davidson and Mooresville.  
Cintra was awarded a contract to build additional lanes along I-77 between Charlotte and Mooresville in exchange for collecting the toll revenue paid by drivers. 
The proposal has been controversial and so have the Thursday meetings.

"To me, it sounds like a secret meeting. When the DOT said they're going to have meetings with Cintra, they're going to be made available. I expected meetings that would involve everybody. Not just elected officials," said Huntersville Town Commissioner Rob Kidwell.  

Other critics of the toll lanes jumped into the fray too. 
Vince Winegardner, with the group WidenI77, said the closed-door meetings raise even more questions about the project. 

"If this is a done deal and the decision has been made, why do we have to have private meetings? Why can't they discuss this in public?” he said.

The DOT said the meetings with Cintra are to provide one-on-one time for local leaders to get information from Cintra.  
DOT said public meetings are scheduled in September. 

As for Thursday's meetings for elected officials only, Kidwell said he won't attend. 

"We should be able to ask those questions in the open, get the direct answers into the open because the people who put us in office deserve to know that," Kidwell said.

Toll billing scam in New York

Link to article here.

E-ZPass ‘Unpaid Toll’ Service Center Collection Agency Email is a Scam
By Jack Phillips, Epoch Times | July 11, 2014

A circulating e-mail that purports to be from E-ZPass and said the customer drove on a toll road is fake and a scam that contains malware.

The e-mail is designed to get recipients to download malware onto their computer via links and attachments contained within it.

The e-mail reads:
“From: Collection Agency
Subject: Pay for driving on toll road

E-ZPass Service Center

Dear customer,
You have not paid for driving on a toll road. This invoice is sent repeatedly, please service your debt in the shortest possible time. The invoice can be downloaded here.”

It’s recommended to not download the invoice, as it’s malware.

The e-mail also has the E-ZPass logo in an attempt to make the scam look more official.

This isn’t the first time scammers have tried to use E-ZPass for their own gain.

The New York State Thruway has a post on its website, warning people to watch out for the scam.

“We have recently learned of an email phishing scam which appears to be an attempt to collect 
unpaid tolls. An example of this email is shown below. Please be advised that this is not an  authorized communication from E-ZPass, the New York State Thruway Authority or any other  toll agency associated with E-ZPass. We advise you not to open or respond to such a message  should you receive one,” it said a few days ago.

“If you have any questions about the validity of any message received, please contact the E-ZPass New York Customer Service Center at 800-333-8655.”

Editorial: Beware of P3s

Link to article here.

A caution on P3s: Let elected officials and the public beware
August 17, 2014 12:00 AM
By the Editorial Board
Pittsburg-Post Gazette

When it comes to public-private partnerships, so-called “P3s,” the old adage — let the buyer beware — needs to be updated for governments planning to join with private companies to do public work or assume a public function.

Let the public deal-maker beware. Let the public beware, too.

White House action to expand P3 toll roads

Link to article here.

The key here is Obama took Executive action in lieu of the legislative branch. Ever since George H.W. Bush’s presidency, the US Department of Transportation has been promoting and facilitating P3s, so why President Obama even took this action is puzzling. If he cared about the voters who elected him, he’d shut down P3s and their high cost to drivers, not expand them.

White House Initiative to Expand Public-Private Partnerships
Posted on: Friday, August 15, 2014
National Law Review Online

On July 17, 2014, President Obama announced a new infrastructure investment initiative, the “Build America Investment Initiative.” Among other things, this program is designed to foster increased use of federal credit programs and public-private partnerships (P3s) by state and local governments. This Alert provides an overview of the Build America Investment initiative and its implications for P3s going forward.

Status of Transportation Funding Bill
With an Aug. 1, 2014 deadline quickly approaching for the projected shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, the House of Representatives enacted a short-term, $11 billion transportation bill on July 15. The Senate is also anticipated to consider this temporary solution in the near future, which would provide funding for surface transportation projects through May 2015. In the face of diminished prospects for a multi-year transportation program being enacted this summer and no expectation of Congressional action on other programmatic changes, the Obama administration has launched this initiative to promote P3s and to attempt to stimulate the growth of these projects through executive branch actions.

Read the rest of the review here.

ELECTION 2014: Texas gubernatorial candidates give insight on transportation

Link to article here.

It’s worth noting, while Attorney General, Greg Abbott was required by law to review public private partnership (P3s) contracts for legal sufficiency, he could not negotiate the terms. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was given full authority by the legislature to do that. They’re the ones selling out Texans with favorable terms for private corporations at taxpayer expense. Abbott is campaigning on funding roads with existing taxes, not turning to more tolls and P3s.

Wendy Davis, however, not only voted to give this authority to TxDOT, she voted in favor of tolling every chance she got, for local option gas tax hikes (as noted below), and had conflicts of interest since her law firm worked for the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) and she sat on the Senate Transportation Committee that votes on all NTTA bills. She never recused herself from any vote.

ELECTION 2014: Texas gubernatorial candidates give insight on transportation
By Keith Goble
Land Line state legislative editor

A new governor will be seated in Texas following the Nov. 4 election. The candidates competing for outgoing Gov. Rick Perry’s position have track records and have weighed in on transportation issues.

 The two major party candidates vying to replace him are Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis. One issue that will confront the winner is a transportation system in need of $4 billion more per year in revenue.

Perry's indictment called 'suspect,' yet he ignored a crony's drunk driving arrest

Link to article here.

Perry’s indictment called ‘suspect,’ yet he ignored Krusee’s drunk driving arrest
By Terri Hall
August 16, 2014

The Republican Party is predictably coming to the aid of one of its own, Governor Rick Perry, who was indicted yesterday on two felony counts stemming from alleged abuses of power. Perry threatened to veto funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg didn’t resign due to her drunk driving conviction. She didn’t resign, and Perry vetoed the unit’s funding. A Texas Grand Jury found probable cause that the governor committed crimes of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant when it handed down two indictments. If found guilty, Perry could face up to 109 years in prison.

Perry’s attorney, Mary Ann Wiley, says he was acting within his constitutional powers to veto such legislation last year. The Democrat-controlled Travis County District Attorney’s office has been called into question before for its highly political case brought against Republican Congressman Tom Delay for allegedly using corporate money to influence elections. He was convicted in Travis County, but it was later overturned by an appellate court. So many are crying foul that Perry’s case is more of the same.

See how many drivers are paying tolls to drive on I-635, I-35E

Link to article here.

This is hogwash and lazy reporting. The number of toll transactions is NOT the same thing as the number of cars per day, nor is it the same as unique drivers per day. Just as a web site can boast thousands of hits per day, what advertisers really use to judge the site’s effectiveness is UNIQUE visitors per day. So this notion that somehow 7,000 transactions means 7,000 unique drivers is fallacious. A toll transaction is one time under a toll gantry. So on a 5-mile trip, one car can post 3-5 toll transactions (one every few miles or so). Then they post an equal number on their return trip, so one driver can post around 10 toll transactions per day for one round trip on just a 5-mile toll road.

Yet these business reporters seem to think they can talk-up the DFW toll roads as a success (as if they’re somehow well-liked) by printing whatever the private company says without one word of scrutiny. They should also compare how many drivers are using the toll lanes versus how many drivers are on the free lanes. That’ll give us a breakdown of what percentage of drivers on these multi-billion dollar tollways (built with tax money) are actually benefiting from the new capacity (for a hefty price tag). I’d also be instructive to know what the average cost per trip is during peak hours.

See how many drivers are paying tolls to drive on I-635, I-35E
By Nicholas Sakelaris
Staff Writer- Dallas Business Journal
August 15, 2014

The managed toll lanes on the LBJ Express attract about 20,000 drivers per day on the two phases that are open, according to the contractor.

Another flawed Reason Foundation poll

Link to article here.

We'd answer this question with a resounding, 'NO!' The only reason why Reason Foundation's polling keeps showing this result is due to how they rig their questions and because Americans think they can avoid paying tolls but they know they can't avoid paying a higher gas tax. Reason Foundation is the biggest proponent of privatizing public roads and toll roads on the planet. They represent the special interests who will profit from P3s and claim they don't lobby - HA!

Another recent poll showed Americans don't want to pay either tolls or higher gas taxes and they oppose P3s two-to-one.

Do Americans really favor tolls over fuel taxes?
Aug 15, 2014 by Sean Kilcarr in Trucks at Work

I’m not sure what to make of the latest Reason-Rupe poll of 1,000 U.S. adults concerning transportation issues, for it seems to me full of conflicting points of view. Then again, maybe that’s the real finding where this survey is concerned – that we don’t like the way things are in terms of highway funding, but that we remain quite divided on how to go about fixing it.

For starters, let’s just say that making broad assumptions about how some 200 million or so working-age American adults feel about transportation funding seems hard to achieve from a poll based on just 1,000 folks. But maybe that's just me.

FL drivers overcharged on toll roads

Link to article here.

Lawsuit accusing state of tolls overcharge goes forward
August 14, 2014
By Steve Andrews

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WFLA) - A judge in Tallahassee gave the green light Thursday to a lawsuit that claims drivers using Florida toll roads are overcharged.

For years, viewers have contacted 8 On Your Side about problems with electronic tolling: including over-charges or plate misreads.

Plant City trucker John Northrup had his fill of the state over charging him month after month, so he filed a lawsuit.

The Florida Department of Transportation wanted the litigation thrown out. Judge James Hankinson rejected the state's motion to dismiss and ordered Northrup and his attorney to include every expressway authority in Florida in the complaint.

"This is a problem that has been going on for several years and has not been corrected," Northrup attorney Cory Fein said.

Northrup intently watched the court hearing in Tallahassee Thursday.

Much like he intently watches his monthly Sunpass billing statements.

"It's been two years of complete nightmare," Northrup expressed.

John Northrup drives a 5-axle rig. An 8 On Your Side investigation last year found Sunpass charged him for 6, 7, 8 even 9 axles more than 170 times.

"There's something flawed in their system," Northrup insisted.

The Department of Transportation has given Northrup three different explanations about why he is repeatedly over charged.

It even put the three transponders he uses on his rig and personal cars on a special watch list.

"All three transponders have been over charged and I've also had billing for approximately 25 tolls for the Broward County school district applied to my account," Northrup complained.

Northrup is suing FDOT, claiming Sunpass and Toll By Plate use defective equipment.

This litigation isn't just about truckers who stand to lose thousands of dollars, 8 On Your side received several calls from several folks who were charged for vehicles they don't even own.

Gale Segura received bills four times from the state's Toll By Plate program charging her for a silver Toyota with an Alabama plate. The problem is she doesn't own a Toyota.

"I said, can you look at the picture that you sent me and look at the license plate, it's not a black Hummer and it's not even a Florida plate," Segura said.

"There's all reasons why you get a might get a misread or a misidentification. It doesn't happen very often when it does happen when we are aware of it we fix it," FDOT attorney Paul Martin said.

Martin contends there is no perfect electronic tolling system. And that Sunpass and Toll By Plate use the most advanced and effective electronic equipment available.

"There are a lot of people who use the toll roads," Northrup attorney Fein stated."And when it's a few hundred dollars per person it doesn't take much to multiply that up to get numbers into the 10 million dollars plus range."

Copyright 2014 WFLA. All rights reserved.

Salzman: The Pitfalls of P3s

Link to article here.

Read Randy Salzman’s entire expose on P3s in the June/July 2014 Issue of Thinking Highways here.

Salzman's work is most comprehensive look at the dangers of P3s to date. It's a must read for citizens and policymakers alike.

A "Model" Scheme?
Thursday, 14 August 2014 00:00 By Randy Salzman, Thinking Highways | News Analysis

With about two-thirds of America's new transportation construction "public-private-partnerships," design-build P3s have been highly praised over the last decade. Contractors, politicians and financiers have been claiming that tiny slivers of private money bring efficiency to the formerly public process of highway building, spurring innovation and freeing taxpayer dollars for other key needs. But as Randy Salzman discovers, it's not without its problems

In the media, congress and across the political world, promoters pushing design-build public-private partnerships (P3s) are still claiming that private innovation is saving taxpayer money, creating good jobs and easing congestion.

Victor Vandergriff: Why not every North Texas highway can be tolled

Link to article here.

Victor Vandergriff: Why not every North Texas highway can be tolled
By Nicholas Sakelaris
Staff Writer- Dallas Business Journal
August 14, 2014

Years ago, transportation planners made a decision that nearly all new highway capacity in North Texas would have a toll component, either tolled highways or managed lanes.

Looking back, Victor Vandergriff, Texas Transportation Commissioner, says he wondered at the time how people would react to that and how they would hold the decision-makers accountable for that once it came to fruition.

That time is now.

Politicians beg for toll connectors for Hwy 288

Link to article here.

TxDOT considers direct connectors for 288 project
Pearland successful in urging that the links be reincorporated in plans
By Mark A. Quick | August 12, 2014
Houston Chronicle

State officials have taken to heart the pleas of Pearland leaders requesting that direct connectors linking the proposed Texas 288 toll lanes to Beltway 8 be added back to construction plans.

"Our concern was when you have a toll road running down the middle of (Texas 288), how is a driver going to get onto Beltway 8 if they want to run over to Pearland or head toward (Interstate 45)?" Pearland Mayor Tom Reid said.

Without the connectors, northbound drivers on Texas 288 toll lanes would need to exit at Texas 6 and use the feeder road, he said.

The Pearland City Council adopted a resolution June 23 urging the Texas Department of Transportation to reverse a decision to not include the connectors. The Pearland Economic Development Corp. adopted an identical resolution.

"As the community and our region continue to grow, the intersection in question will only become more congested. It is imperative that we have direct connectors there," PEDC President Matt Buchanan said of the Texas 288-Beltway 8 intersection.

Plans are underway to construct toll lanes in the grassy middle median of Texas 288. TxDOT officials expect construction to begin in the summer 2015.

According to TxDOT documents, the Brazoria County Toll Road Authority will design, construct, finance, operate and maintain the portion of the toll lanes in Brazoria County, which are anticipated to extend south to County Road 58.

Later this year, state officials expect to select a firm to design and build the Harris County portion up to its end at U.S. 59.
Costs for the Harris County portion are expected to run $585 million and costs for the Brazoria County portion at $160 million.

State officials also have to work out the dynamics of engineering the connectors and the allocation of toll fees once a driver transitions from the SH 288 toll lanes onto the Beltway 8 toll lanes.

TxDOT's commission expressed support for the connectors on June 26 after hearing local residents and entities advocate for that.

Issues now in focus include designing the connectors, determining their connection points and identifying how tolls will be collected, TxDOT spokeswoman Raquelle Lewis said.

"We have to make sure the connectors can be accommodated successfully and safely," she said.

Harris County Toll Road Authority spokeswoman Patti Evans said that safe traffic flow between future toll lanes and Beltway 8 is a primary concern that must be addressed in plans.

Reid said that without direct connectors, motorists will simply drive the feeder roads, defeating the purpose of toll lanes and resulting in lost revenue.

"We have to accommodate and prepare for the tremendous growth taking place in the Pearland, Manvel and Alvin areas," he said. "If we don't get on top of this now, we will have even greater congestion problems in the future. I think it will end up costing more in the long run if we don't do this now."

So-called 'conservative' highway bill pushes toll taxes, privatization

Link to column here.

Conservatives introduce “TEA” highway bill that scraps federal program, but pushes tolls, P3s, & transit boondoggles
While Graves, Lee and Rubio may believe they’re offloading their federal gas tax revenue problem to the states, in reality, they’re seeking to compound the problem 50-fold; the states aren’t any better than the feds on transportation funding. We should not be encouraging more tolling of any kind, whether at the federal or state level. Tolls are a tax. The principle of “pay-as-you-go” must be applied at both the federal and state levels. Indeed, it must be legislated.
By Terri Hall | August 13, 2014
SFPPR News & Analysis

A group of conservative congressmen filed a bill to scrap the federal highway program and devolve the task of building and maintaining America’s highway system to the states. U.S. Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA), Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced the bill dubbed the Transportation Empowerment Act or the TEA Act – H.R. 3486 in the House and S. 1702 in the Senate. The TEA acronym harkens back to the Agenda 21-inspired Transportation Equity Act (TEA) series of highway bills that opened the door to a multi-national highway system, so-called ‘innovative financing’ schemes, and widespread tolling – even imposing tolls on existing interstates.

TxDOT hearings a sham

Link to article here.

Houghton knows better. MPO staff and TxDOT staff run everything. The MPO boards have no idea what they’re voting on. Plenty of elected officials complain they can’t get their projects into the MPO plans and they have no idea how the process works. The Alamo Area MPO meets during the day in a transit center downtown (not near any of the neighborhoods where toll roads will be) with NO public parking. We’ve had people get their cars towed and get parking tickets just to attend an MPO meeting. Then they gripe the public doesn’t show up. Really?  When we have showed up by the hundreds, they NEVER once vote in favor of what the public says they want (which is no tolls). Not once in 10 years. 

Pittsburg-Gazette 4-part series on P3s

Link to article here.

The 'P3' dilemma: How effective are public-private partnerships?
By Len Boselovic / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
August 10, 2014
The first of a four-part series.

Cash-strapped governments around the country that are reluctant to raise taxes are increasingly plunging forward with bold experiments: enlisting investment banks, pension funds and other eager investors to fund billions of dollars of highway, bridge and other infrastructure projects.

In Chicago, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley plugged a short-term budget gap in 2009 by turning over 36,000 metered parking spaces for 75 years to a private venture organized by Morgan Stanley. With little information and little time to analyze the transaction, Chicago’‍s city council overwhelmingly embraced the deal and its upfront payment of $1.2 billion.

At about the same time, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl had considered a $452 million plan to rehabilitate his city’‍s woefully underfunded pension plans by privatizing parking. City council members rejected it.

Rick Perry's three ways for road-building: Tax, toll or asphalt fairy

Link to article here.

Rick Perry's three ways for road-building: Tax, toll or asphalt fairy
By Kathie Obradovich
August 11, 2014
Des Moines Register

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, winding up a business roundtable appearance in Des Moines today, was asked how he managed to pay for roads in Texas without raising taxes.

There are three ways to pay for transportation infrastructure: "Tax roads, toll roads, or the asphalt fairy," Perry said. "There is no other way, and roads are expensive."

He forgot to mention a fourth way, which is all the rage in Texas: Borrow the money. According to Perry's website, the 81st Texas Legislature authorized and appropriated $2 billion in bonding for road building. "While bonding can be an effective short-term solution for funding projects, Gov. Perry continues to pursue innovative, long-term transportation funding solutions for our state's perpetually growing transportation needs," his website goes on to say.

Perry, speaking at the Association for Business and Industry office in Des Moines, added he recommends avoiding tax increases. The business growth that results will raise the revenue needed to pay for road construction, he said. But in Texas, local communities are having trouble keeping up.

Bloomberg News reported in June that Texas local governments are piling up debt for infrastructure and local services as Texas grows. The state's debt increased about 170 percent to $41 billion from 2000 to 2012, and local borrowings grew by 145 percent to almost $196 billion, Bloomberg reported.

Gov. Terry Branstad has said we don't want toll roads in Iowa, and he ousted the previous governor in part by blasting borrowing for infrastructure. He hasn't ruled out an increase in the gas tax, but has held off pushing for the change. This year, an exploration of alternative revenue sources went nowhere.

Guess that leaves the asphalt fairy. Hope she's not too tired to fly up here when she gets finished in Texas.

Roads and bridges won't pay for themselves

Link to article here.

How many times have we heard this false choice? It's either gas tax hike or more toll taxes (always the expectation is more money out of our pockets), not spend our existing taxes wisely and stop diverting our road taxes to transit and rail and projects drivers don't benefit from. Taxpayers aren't stupid, they aren't going to give irrepsonsible politcians permission to raid our wallets even more.

Roads and bridges won't pay for themselves
August 10, 2014
Wisconsin State Journal editorial

Americans want good roads and bridges but don’t want to pay for them, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll on transportation.

No surprise there.

Of course smooth roads and sturdy bridges are popular. Of course taxes and toll roads are not.

That’s why we need leaders in Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin to make tough yet necessary decisions.

Congress just failed — again — to show leadership on America’s transportation demands. It slapped a $10.8 billion patch on the nation’s Highway Trust Fund, which is teetering on insolvency and will need more money by May.

Congress’ stopgap measure did little more than tweak the rules for private-sector pensions, pretending that saves money.

In reality, it just pushes more cost and risk into the future and doesn’t come close to fixing a gaping hole in the highway fund that, in recent years, has climbed to more than $50 billion.

Congress pushing the problem to next spring is like a road crew filling a pot hole on a crumbling road — for the umpteenth time — that long ago needed rebuilding and expansion.

Our leaders at the statehouse in Madison aren’t doing much better. Gov. Scott Walker and Co. borrowed more than $1 billion in the state budget to Band-Aid the problem and try to survive another election.

At both the state and national levels, the solution is pretty simple: Raise more revenue to pay for more expensive roads, bridges, rail and transit. Where should that money come from?

Only 14 percent of respondents in the AP-GfK poll supported raising the gas tax. Yet the federal government’s 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. Wisconsin’s 32.9 cents-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 2006.

Surely our politicians and the most of the public grasp that costs have risen over the last two decades, along with traffic. If we want good roads, bridges and public transportation, we need to pay for it, rather than passing the cost on to our kids.

If the public doesn’t want a higher gas tax, then it needs to accept tolls or some other source of increased revenue. Or it needs to stop driving so much. But as of this spring, total traffic volume is up, compared to a year ago.

Unfortunately, the AP-GfK poll suggests the public is opposed to more than just the gas tax. Only 17 percent of respondents said they support tolling. That’s a little better than support for the gas tax, but not by much. And only 20 percent support replacing the gas tax with a miles-driven tax. Only 30 percent favor pushing the problem to state and local governments.

So what does the public support? Apparently, a free ride. But that’s not realistic, even with more interest in public transportation options.

At the same time, more fuel-efficient cars are paying less gas tax while still using public roads.

Most of the public, we suspect, if given a detailed accounting of the highway fund deficit and stale gas tax, would be OK with a higher tax and other measures to raise more revenue. Regardless of whether that’s true, our leaders should have the courage to do what’s needed to balance the books.

The only good news in the latest poll is that a lot of people aren’t sure what to think. For example, while only 17 percent favor private toll roads, 37 percent aren’t sure about their position, and 46 percent (fewer than half) are opposed.

It’s going to take leaders in Washington and Wisconsin to do the right thing and balance transportation cost with revenue.

Tyler toll road bailout an outrage

Link to article here.

The Texas Transportation Commission just authorized a $55 million bailout of the Loop 49 toll project, but you sure wouldn't know it by this so-called news article. More like a puff piece to prop-up a loser toll road. If you carefully read between the lines, they claim traffic is up, and so are revenues, but both are still insufficient to cover the debt payments, so that's not exactly being honest with the public about the tollway's financial health. The reason for the Commission bailout is so that the RMA can look credit-worthy to issue it's next round of toll bonds to extend the failing toll road even further.

Shortcuts: Usage of Toll 49 is up; revenue rises as rates increase
Saturday, 9 August 2014
Written by Adam Russell This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Tyler Morning Telegraph

Jimmy Boyd uses Toll 49 every workday. He hops on at Farm-to-Market Road 2493 and makes the 9-mile connection to Texas Highway 31 as he commutes from Gresham to Athens.

Boyd had his doubts that anyone would use the toll road when it was under construction. He believed drivers would continue using other routes to avoid paying tolls.

But then Boyd began using Toll 49. He used it when he was running late or in a hurry at first. Then he noted the time he saved.

Boyd cut 20 minutes off his round-trip commute, which had required him to go up Old Jacksonville Highway to Loop 323 and over to Texas Highway 31. It cut an hour off round-trip visits to Children’s Medical Center in Dallas when his son was undergoing cancer treatment, he said.

Despite a rate increase in April, which bumped the per mile rate from a base rate of 10 cents to 13.5 cents, Boyd said the benefit outweighs the cost.

“The time benefit outweighs the cost,” he said.

Boyd’s typical $60 monthly bill had been recently cut in half when he opted for a toll tag rather than paying bills by mail, which means paying higher rates and a processing fee.

But another rate increase is planned for Jan. 1, 2015, according to the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority.

The rate increases are part of an agreement made with the Texas Department of Transportation before the mobility authority took management control of Toll 49. It required per-mile base rates be increased to 15 cents from 12 cents to meet an “Understanding Regarding Market Valuation For Toll 49.”

Regional Mobility Interim Director Everett Owen said rates would continue to increase 3 percent to 4 percent annually.

Toll 49 is a 25.4-mile, two-lane, outer loop around the south and west side of Tyler, connecting Texas Highway 110 near Whitehouse to Interstate 20. The road has seven toll stations that charge drivers with toll tags between 30 cents and $1.18 (the same stations charge drivers without toll tags 40 cents and $1.57, respectively) for passage.

Driving from I-20 to Texas Highway 110 would cost the driver of a passenger car $3.33 with a toll tag and $7.01, including a $1 processing fee, when paying by mail without a toll tag.

Cars with a trailer pay twice the base rate per mile.

Tractor trailers pay four times the base rate if they are hauling one trailer and five times the rate when hauling two trailers.

The North Texas Tolling Authority, which manages toll roads in and around Dallas/Fort Worth, including Dallas North Tollway and President George Bush Turnpike, charge 16.2 cents per mile on average, said NTTA Media Relations Manager Michael Rey.

The initial toll rate for the segment between U.S. Highway 69 and Texas Highway 155 was 50 cents when tolling began in 2006. The rate is now 69 cents but still below the 75 cents TxDOT expected to charge before residents spoke up at public hearings for a lower rate.

The first segment opened in 2006 connected Texas Highway 155 with U.S. Highway 69.

The connection to I-20 in March 2013 was a major milestone for the project. Officials anticipated daily transactions to escalate significantly with the connection. Owens said daily transactions on Toll 49 reached more than 29,000, well above early projections.

Revenue projections for 2015 are expected to be up more than $2 million, Owen said.

Proceeds from the toll road go toward the operation, maintenance and expansion of the road, Owen said. Future expansion of the Toll 49/East Texas Hourglass, which includes connecting existing segments to I-20 east of Tyler and segments in Gregg and Harrison counties, will depend on traffic.

The next leg, the Lindale Relief Route, will extend north from I-20 and connect with U.S. 69 north of Lindale. A recent $55 million state grant, which effectively would forgive NETRMA debt, could mean construction of the relief route might begin as early as next summer.

The argument for making the project a toll road has been that tolling would expedite construction by decades. State transportation funding is based on priority and booming metropolitan areas, such as Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, have the highest priority and receive about 75 percent of Texas highway dollars. The other 25 percent is divided between more rural areas around the state.

In officials view, competition for transportation dollars made tolls the most viable alternative to get the project moving. With traffic along Loop 323 and main arterial roads swelling, officials pushed for construction to begin sooner than later.

Opposing voices viewed Toll 49 as a poor option to relieve traffic. They also felt it was a ploy to enrich developers with land holdings along the route.

There was doubt among much of the opposition that Toll 49 would draw traffic away from “free” roads. They dubbed the first segments “a road to nowhere” because it lacked connectivity.

But as each segment opened, value to drivers increased.

Owen said the NETRMA knows there is value to drivers like Boyd. The authority performs “sensitivity studies” based on interviews with local residents to determine how they value their time.

There is a bell curve when it comes to tolls, Owen said. Low toll rates don’t generate much revenue but increasing toll rates beyond a certain point discourages use, which means revenues decrease.

“There definitely is a theoretical point where if you go over that amount, you’ll actually collect less money,” he said.

Boyd said what he pays for time saved driving could change his route back to free roads at some point if the rate continues to rise.

“At some point I might take the back roads when I’m not in a hurry,” Boyd said. “If the cost gets too expensive, I could see going that route.”

Charlie George, of Tyler, said she avoids Toll 49 at all costs. Ms. George didn’t like the project once it transitioned from a state funded loop to a tolled road.

“I just see it as wrong for tax dollars to go toward a toll road,” she said. “The people who don’t use it pay for it and the people who do use it pay twice.”

Ms. George is suspicious of the reliability of toll cameras that log vehicle license plates and the billing process. She and other area disabled veterans have been wading through a “huge stink for two years” regarding tolls wrongly charged to drivers with disabled veteran license plates.

NETRMA began charging disabled veterans tolls when it took over management from TxDOT in March 2013, but the board approved action to waive fees to qualifying veterans in August after veterans lodged complaints.

The tolling apparatus are “99.99 percent” accurate, Owen said. Some tolls are lost, due to power outages and vehicles with no license plates. Some are double-billed, but there are few problems overall, Owen said.

Owen said he understands some people are philosophically opposed to Toll 49. But as long as people value time over money, they will continue to drive it, he said.

“It’s a user fee. People have to decide whether they get value from using it,” he said. “Evidently a lot of people see value in it.”