(Austin, TX - Friday, May 5, 2017) Texas taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief tonight as a bipartisan effort to defeat expansion of private toll roads in Texas went down in flames by a vote of 79-51 in the Texas House. Taxpayer champions Rep. Jeff Leach (R - Plano), Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R - Bedford), and Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso) led the floor fight, noting 90% of Democrats and 95% of Republicans oppose new toll roads in Texas, and both party platforms oppose privatized toll roads in particular. Governor Greg Abbott promised to fix Texas roads without new tolls or debt, and the Texas House delivered on that promise today by killing Rep. Larry Phillips HB 2861.
Pickett and Stickland made impassioned speeches opposing the bill. Leach emphasized both party platforms oppose this type of toll project and that the voters just gave the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) $5 billion a year in new funding by passing Proposition 1 and Proposition 7.
He asked the bill's author, "Why do we need this bill now?"
Then Leach directly asked Pickett whether or not the House needed to pass HB 2861 to get the projects done, and he answered with a firm, 'No.'
Stickland bluntly argued the reason why he's now serving in the House is because his predecessor Todd Smith voted to turn 183 and 121 into toll roads that devastated his community. He intimated that voters took out their vengeance by electing a new representative.
"My constituents hate it," asserted Stickland, referring to the privatized toll roads that run through Ft. Worth that are locked into 50 year contracts operated by Spain-based Cintra.
Pickett sounded the alarm about the need to draw a line in the sand, "If we don't stop it now, it's never going to stop."
He warned that passage of HB 2861 would dig the debt-toll road sinkhole even deeper and told his colleagues that Prop 1 and Prop 7 expire, and they're going to have to address the debt problem very soon. He also shared frustration that neither he nor the public has any idea where all this toll revenue is going. It lacks transparency and gets eaten up by the toll road bureaucracies, or in this case, the private entities the public cannot hold accountable.
"This is so people can make money," contended Pickett.
Terri Hall, Founder and Director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Reform (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways hailed the defeat of HB 2861, "A bipartisan coalition swept the Rick Perry-era of toll roads aside, and today we officially started the Abbott era that firmly opposes new toll roads, especially privatized toll roads that give an exclusive right to a single company to extract the highest possible toll from the traveling public for a half century at a time."
JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America - We the People agrees, "A broad coalition of groups across Texas made it clear that they would not tolerate the expansion of private toll roads and the corporate welfare they represent to continue to spread like a cancer across the Lone Star State. We applaud the work of our champions in the House and thank the Governor for his leadership in firmly setting a new course away from debt and toll roads and moving forward with a new fiscally responsible, sustainable future."
Roads in HB 2861:
- I-35 in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio
- I-45 in Houston
- Hwy 290 (Hempstead Tollway) Houston
- I-30 in Ft. Worth
- I-635 E in Dallas
- Loop 1604 in San Antonio
- 290 W in Austin (from MoPac to Oak Hill)
- South MoPac in Austin
- South Padre Island Second Access Causeway
- International Bridge Corridor Project
- Hidalgo County Loop project
- FM 1925 in Cameron & Hidalgo Counties
- Hwy 83 Hidalgo County
- Hwy 68 in Hidalgo County
- Outer Pkwy in Cameron County
- Loop 49 in Tyler (two projects)
Hall concludes, "Special interests continue to push these 'innovative' financing schemes despite the public opposition because private toll contracts and design-build procurements drive up the cost to build, putting more money into the pockets of road builders at great expense to Texas taxpayers. Our elected representatives just said, 'No more.' You're not going to gouge our citizens just to get to work."
See article: HB2861 Record Vote