By Terri Hall
Lobbyist 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.
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
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.
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.”
Sneaky SH 130 Expansion Defies Abbott/Patrick Pledge
New toll lanes deceptively approved for SH 130
By JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director, Grassroots America – We the People PAC and
Terri Hall, Founder/Director, Texans for Toll-Free Highways PAC
May 2, 2018
Empower Texans Scorecard
Here we go again! Another toll road expansion gets to hopscotch ahead of the state’s major congestion priorities such as I-35 in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio. The Texas Transportation Commission just approved spending $36.7 million in toll revenues to add another toll lane to the state operated section of SH 130 from SH 45N to Hwy 290 (the southern 41 miles is operated by a private corporation that emerged the winner in bankruptcy court despite the promise it would return to the public if it went bankrupt). More broken bureaucratic promises – shocking, right?
Buried in the commission agenda was a nebulous, generalized agenda item 3(a): ‘The construction of highways and other transportation facilities’ (see attached itemized list). After searching through 21 pages of projects, the Commission expects the public to discern what’s going on when it gives no project description and merely lists how much money the Commission is approving for each project. The word ‘toll’ is nowhere to be found, unlike past Commission agendas that clearly delineate toll projects under separate agenda items and have a specific minute order with detailed information about the project and the origin of the funds.
Lawmakers clash with toll bureaucracies over cap on toll fines
By Terri Hall
March 11, 2018
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
It’s a great day for Texas drivers as a new law takes effect capping the toll fines and fees on some Texas tollways to $48 a year. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion just as the law took effect that said the new law applies to all toll entities, but only under a limited section of the Transportation Code — Chapter 228. This has put toll agencies, like the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), on a collision course with lawmakers over the interpretation of how broadly the law impacts certain toll projects.
Paxton did assert the new law applies to “an entity operating a toll lane pursuant to Section 228.007(b), Transportation Code,” which brings in every type of toll entity. However, most toll projects are not governed by agreements with TxDOT under Chapter 228, so toll bureaucracies argue the new law, passed as part of SB 312 last year, only applies to a handful of toll projects.
Trump plan to lift ban on tolling existing interstates met with stiff opposition
By Terri Hall
February 13, 2018
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
The lowly taxpayer just can’t seem to cut a break. Weeks after the euphoria of passing the largest tax cut in a generation, President Donald Trump released his infrastructure proposal pushing toll roads and public private partnerships (P3s), which spells disaster for those middle class workers’ pocketbooks. The most contentious proposal being lifting the ban on tolling existing interstates.
Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) was instrumental in protecting taxpayers from double taxation by defending the ban on tolling existing interstates during her tenure, even imposing a special provision to protect Texas. Now Trump wants to provide states “flexibility to toll existing interstates.” This means the lanes you drive today toll-free could now have tolls slapped on them simply to generate revenue for big government as a new tax in the hands of unelected toll agencies or to line the pockets of private toll operators — completely out of reach of the voters.
By Terri Hall
January 31, 2018
Americans should be celebrating the lower cost of driving between 2016 and 2017, but the tolls and taxes being imposed by government threaten to erase any gains motorists might have enjoyed. According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Transportation Economic Trends of 2017, the number of miles traveled by Americans went up 7.9% since 2014 (17.3% since 2000) with a slight 2.2% drop in the overall cost of private transportation (including a .5% drop in the cost of buying a new or used vehicle and an 11.5% decrease in fuel costs). However, taxes on vehicles increased 2.1%, parking fees and tolls (imposed by government) rose 2.8%, and car maintenance and repair went up 1.7%. With car insurance spiking 6.2% and housing costs soaring 6%, these cost increases effectively erase any cost savings motorists experienced.
Several developments compound the frustration of motorists who can’t seem to cut a break. Many cities across America tilt left, politically, and they’ve declared war on cars and use gasoline taxes collected from motorists in order to erect impediments to driving through a variety of traffic calming and social engineering gimmicks.
By JoAnn Fleming and Terri Hall
January 25, 2018
A showdown was expected at today’s Texas Transportation Commission meeting over Interstate-635 E as elected officials seeking to make good on their campaign promises to end tolls were butting heads with transportation interests seeking to lobby for more tolls. Thanks to the tireless work of Senator Bob Hall who had brought the various factions together, all the players from across the spectrum had agreed to advance a non-toll expansion of Interstate-635 E (from US-75 to Interstate 30) without tolls, sidelining tolled express lanes in accordance with the policy of Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, who recently pulled the plug on future toll roads in response to grassroots pressure. The non-toll plan is what appeared on today’s agenda.
However, to everyone’s surprise, Chairman Bruce Bugg announced that he would delay action on the project. He referred to a $1 billion funding gap between the old toll plan and the newly brokered non-toll version, but Transportation Director of the Regional Transportation Council Michael Morris very articulately begged to differ.
Morris laid out several scenarios of how the non-toll freeway expansion was fully funded and how it could move forward today without further delay. Even the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Deputy Executive Director Marc Williams testified the non-toll project was, in fact, ‘fiscally constrained,’ which means fully funded.
Out of control: Commuters clobbered with $44 one way in tolls
By Terri Hall
December 22, 2017
Tolls hit $44 one way to go 10 miles on Interstate 66 in Virginia. Rub your eyes and read that again. Tolls have become the new ‘drug’ of choice for politicians and bureaucrats. It’s become a legalized form of highway robbery. While elected officials try to navigate the mess they’ve made by unleashing unelected transportation bureaucrats with the unfettered power to enter into secret contracts with foreign corporations behind closed doors and giving them carte blanche access to commuters wallets with virtually no limit, it’s no wonder toll rates have reached unsustainable levels in a few short years after state lawmakers embarked on the grand toll experiment.
With little checks and balances, commuters are now locked into congestion misery or face financial hardship the likes of which have never been seen in America simply to get to work. For many, working will no longer pay the cost of getting there. It’s not just I-66, but also interstates 95, 395, and 495. Express toll lanes, often referred to as ‘managed’ lanes, are the new normal in many metropolitan areas, especially in states that jumped on board early due to the influence of Bob Poole and the Reason Foundation — like Florida, Texas, and Virginia.
By Terri Hall
November 17, 2017
It’s not very often that the lowly taxpayer gets a win this big, but it finally came. After 12 years of wrangling over toll roads, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick came to the rescue issuing a final decree ending toll roads in Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) ignited a taxpayer revolt when it proposed 15 new toll projects as part of the update to its ten year plan — the Unified Transportation Plan (UTP). Not only did TxDOT try to railroad a litany of toll projects, it adopted a plan to use Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds that are constitutionally protected from going to toll projects to finance the US 183 toll project in Austin.
Abbott campaigned on the promise of fixing Texas roads without raising taxes, fees, debt or tolls. He reiterated his position in his first State of the State address in 2015 as well as when he announced his Texas Clear Lanes initiative that was to focus funding on the state’s most congested roads.
By Terri Hall
November 9, 2017
With Cindy Burkett throwing her hat in the ring in an attempt to unseat grassroots conservative stalwart Senator Bob Hall, the voters of Texas Senate District 2 need to know about her record. Burkett was quick to support selling off Interstate 635 E to the highest bidder using a controversial toll contract known in Texas as a comprehensive development agreement (or CDA) that gives control of our public roads to private toll companies.
Interstate 635 toll lanes from I-35E to the Dallas North Tollway are already operated by Spain-based Cintra. Commuters in the Metroplex face paying upwards of $24/day in tolls to this foreign corporation just to get to work, and no elected official has any control over how high those toll rates can go. Burkett wants that tax burden to extend to commuters in her own district from US 75 to I-30.
Tolls top $8 for commute on newly opened MoPac toll lanes
By Terri Hall
October 24, 2017
It didn’t take long for toll rates to exceed affordability. The newly opened toll managed lanes on MoPac (from Lady Bird Lake to Parmer Lane) in Austin topped $8 to go 11 miles, and cost $6.28 to drive the northern 6 miles during the evening commute. That’s just in the first week of operation. If you think that’s insane, that’s because it is. No one should have to pay over $1 a mile to get to or from work in a reasonable time. Texans pay a litany of road taxes, primarily the gasoline tax, to pay for public highways. Twice in as many years, Texas voters gave the largest boost in road funding to the state highway fund — totaling nearly $5 billion more per year. Yet supercharged toll roads continue to come online virtually unabated.
Toll managed lanes like those on MoPac use congestion pricing. The toll you pay no longer relates to the actual cost of building the road you’re driving on. Now tolls vary based on the level of congestion, rising and falling continually throughout peak hours, potentially changing in 5-minute intervals. Toll roads often provide time reliability, but today’s congestion tolling means you don’t have price reliability. A study done in 2016 by the Texas Transportation Institute at A&M, found that congestion tolling both angers and confuses the public. It states one of the biggest challenges is public acceptance.
Trump pulls the plug on private toll roads, centerpiece of infrastructure plan
By Terri Hall
Setpember 30, 2017
It’s big news for taxpayers, but for the special interests who have been pushing public private partnerships (P3s) and toll roads as the way to fund $1 trillion in upgrades to America’s infrastructure not so much. This week, President Donald Trump officially pulled the plug on P3s as the centerpiece to his infrastructure plan.
The president said simply, “They don’t work.”
Trump mentioned it in a meeting with members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday as the president met with lawmakers to discuss tax reform. Citing the failure of the Interstate-69 P3 contract done under Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana, the state recently had to sever the contract, take over the project, and issue its own debt to get it finished.
RELIEF COMING? Ending exorbitant toll fines and fees may be decided by Texas Attorney General
By Terri Hall
September 15, 2017
It’s been a long time coming, but Texas commuters may finally cut a break when it comes to relief from exorbitant toll fines and fees. Texas State Rep. Joe Pickett, former House Transportation Committee Chair, fired off a request for an official legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton this week to see if the caps on toll fines and fees in Senate Bill 312 apply to other toll entities besides the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Pickett’s House colleagues Rep. Ina Minjarez, Rep. Tom Oliverson, and Rep. Tony Dale joined him in signing the letter.
The Texas legislature passed SB 312 in May during the 85th legislative session, and it contains a strong toll collection reform capping the administrative fees imposed on drivers to just $48/year and $250/year in criminal penalties. But one section of the bill references another section of the transportation code that says an entity operating a toll lane has the same powers and duties regarding toll collection as TxDOT. That’s the hook anti-toll advocates are hoping will force the law to apply to all toll agencies, not just TxDOT when it comes to taming the out of control, excessive fines and fees being tacked onto toll bills across the state.
By Terri Hall
August 19, 2017
The bureaucrats couldn’t fight the momentum. Texans have been calling for tolls to come off roads once they’re paid for and thanks to passage of Senate Bill 312, the Texas Transportation Commission voted to do just that on Camino Colombia SH 255 in Laredo and on Cesar Chavez Border Highway in El Paso. To add icing on the cake, the Dallas City Council also voted to deep six the controversial Trinity Toll Road after a 20 year battle, and the Commission is also mulling changing plans on US 183 North in Austin to expand it as non-toll instead of tolled. All that in a matter of weeks.
The last time tolls were removed from a road in Texas was in 1977 — forty years ago. But it’s not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Commission that governs it.
By Terri Hall
July 8, 2017
The defunct SH 130 tollway just emerged from bankruptcy court and the news isn’t good for taxpayers. In 2007, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) entered into a Comprehensive Development Agreement, or public private partnership, with SH 130 Concession Company, a subsidiary of Spain-based Cintra and Zachry Toll Road 56, which had ownership dispersed among Australian and many other foreign entities. The 41-mile southern stretch of SH 130 opened in November 2012, designed to be a bypass around congested downtown Austin. But the traffic never materialized and the private concession company sought bankruptcy protection in March 2016. According to the terms that emerged from bankruptcy court, all of the private entity’s $1.4 billion debt was wiped away, leaving federal taxpayers left holding the bag for the $430 million federally-backed Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan given to the private entities.
Texas taxpayers feel betrayed. Former Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson swore under oath before the Senate Transportation Committee on March 1, 2007, that if the private entities went bankrupt, the Texas taxpayers would get the road back free and clear of any debt. Free and clear means no debt obligations, and therefore no need to continue to charge tolls for usage. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, new owners were brought in, Strategic Value Partners, $260 million in new debt was issued, and the new private company will continue to charge tolls until the contract is up in 2062 — for a road that now owes virtually no debt compared to its original $1.4 billion.
By Terri Hall
May 28, 2017
As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, the antics of some lawmakers warrants scrutiny when it comes to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, SB 312, that passed yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. SB 312 must pass or the highway department goes away. Rather than concur with the House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.
This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.
Watch the Bloomberg story on it here.
Those who voted to hand 19 TX roads to private, foreign toll operators are:
Yeas 51 — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are´valo; Blanco; Burkett; Button; Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Elkins; Farrar; Flynn; Geren; Giddings; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Howard; Huberty; Israel; Johnson, E.; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Moody; Morrison; Murphy; Neave; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Phillips; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Rose; Sheffield; Shine; Smithee; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Villalba; Walle; Workman.
Taxpayer champions who voted against are:
Nays 82 — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Cain; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Cosper; Craddick; Cyrier; Dale; Darby; Dean; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Faircloth; Fallon; Frank; Frullo; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neva´rez; Oliverson; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Pickett; Price; Raney; Reynolds; Rinaldi; Roberts; Romero; Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shaheen; Simmons; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thierry; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; White; Wilson; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.
Absent, Excused — Anchia; Paddie; Wu.
Absent, Excused, Committee Meeting — Ashby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Sanford.
Absent Unexcused — Bernal; Cook; Gervin-Hawkins; Guillen; Hinojosa; Johnson, J.; Kuempel; Minjarez; Vo.
Source: House Journal Recorded Vote
See press release: VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott's vision for toll-free future