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Prop 7

  • New road funds to be squandered on non-priority projects to force tolls on major congested corridors
    Loop 1604 on the north side and I-35 commuters targeted for toll taxes, while other corridors are not
    By Terri Hall
    October 16, 2016

    On September 27, TxDOT's San Antonio District Engineer Mario Jorge presented a list of projects to use up the Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds. We see many red flags and we’re very concerned. First, as usual, we’re being told Loop 1604 and I-35 ‘have’ to be tolled. So let’s look at the projects that are consuming the new funding, precisely so Texans wouldn’t be tolled.

    First, the San Antonio district will be receiving $2.3 billion in unallocated NEW funds over the next 10 years. It’s critical these funds go to the top priorities, which are I-35 and Loop 1604. The Governor made clear these funds are to go to the most congested roads first.
  • Farewell: Pickett’s love for transportation and sticking up for taxpayers will be sorely missed
    By Terri Hall
    December 26, 2018

    Pickett Joe jpg 800x1000 Move Texas ForwardRetiring Texas State Representative Joseph Pickett (D - HD 79) is one in a million. Truly there is no one in the Texas House who undertook transportation as a matter of personal study with the aim of improving every step of the process for both the government agencies in charge of delivering projects and also for the forgotten taxpayer like Joe Pickett. He announced his retirement right before Christmas citing his battle with cancer and the need to fully recover without the rigors of a legislative session. It’s truly a devastating loss for the people of Texas. Here’s why.

    No one knows Texas transportation like Pickett, and there is no one currently in the Texas House who can come close to replacing his depth of knowledge and expertise anytime soon. He’s been in the Texas House since 1995, serving first on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation then on the Transportation Committee itself, eventually chairing the committee for two sessions.

    Pickett not only served on his local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in El Paso as a councilman, but also during most of his tenure in the Texas House. He also served as Chair of the El Paso MPO for several terms. Local MPOs are where the nitty gritty of transportation projects take place. These boards, comprised of local elected officials and transportation agency officials, decide which local projects get priority over others and where gas tax dollars and transportation funds get allocated. Ever since the Rick Perry ‘toll everything so we can generate new revenue and not call it a tax’ began, the MPOs often decide whether or not a road project is tolled. Those are fighting words for many Texans faced with high monthly toll bills that approach the level of a property tax bill for many families in urban areas. Pickett had the savvy and finesse to challenge TxDOT, toll agencies, and MPOs about various toll project decisions and discern whether or not it was truly warranted or just a potential cash cow for an unaccountable agency.

    Read our lips: “No new toll taxes!”

    Grassroots Coalition of 67 Organizations Call Out

    Transportation Agencies for Breaking Governor’s 

    Promise for No More Toll Roads

    (November 8, 2017 — Austin, Texas) Today, a Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition project led by Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Texans for Toll-free Highways, and Grassroots America was hand-delivered to Gov. Greg Abbott and his new Transportation Commission Chair, Bruce Bugg. The Coalition letterinsists that the Transportation Commission, TxDOT, and all related mobility authorities make good on Governor Abbott’s promise to build needed roads without new toll taxes. The Coalition project was launched in response to last week’s proposal by TxDOT to the Transportation Commission to approve over a dozen new toll projects in the state’s ten-year plan. Fifteen of the 17 projects are toll projects, including I-35 in Austin and San Antonio, I-635E in Dallas, I-45 in Houston, and Loop 1604 on San Antonio.

    JoAnn Fleming, Grassroots America’s Executive Director said of the latest proposal for new toll projects, “Apparently, the state and local transportation bureaucracies didn’t get Gov. Abbott’s memo during his first campaign for Governor and haven’t listened ever since. The Governor has repeatedly underscored his vow to get Texas off the toll road and debt scheme. He’s made it clear he wants the state on a pay-as-you-go plan for road construction, and voters have approved the funding.
  • Mixed bag legal opinion over co-mingling of funds for toll roads
    Attorney General can’t figure out what a toll road is
    By Terri Hall
    May 19, 2018

    Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a mixed legal opinion regarding whether or not Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds that are prohibited from being used on toll roads could be co-mingled with projects that have toll lanes in them. Rep. Joe Pickett requested the opinion in response to the public backlash when it was discovered the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority was attempting to use Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds on its US 183 toll project.

    To the average voter, when it states: “Revenue transferred to the state highway fund under this subsection may be used only for constructing, maintaining, and acquiring rights-of-way for public roadways other than toll roads,” it’s pretty clear that means any part of a road, including the right of way, cannot be a toll road. But apparently that’s not clear to the Attorney General whose legal opinion chose to punt rather than protect taxpayers from an accounting trick being used by toll bureaucrats to skirt the Texas Constitutional Amendments overwhelmingly approved by Texas voters in 2014 and 2015.
  • Link to article 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.”
  • Link to Op/Ed here.

    Use Prop 1, Prop 7 funds to fix Loop 1604 without tolls
    By Terri Hall
    Founder, Texans for Toll-free Highways
    February 28, 2017
    San Antonio Express-News

    Much in the same way taxpayers got the message about tolls being inevitable on US 281 and I-10, the Express-News editorial told our community, 'Tolls are necessary, deal with it.' Taxpayers don't appreciate being told what to do, especially when it comes to the long arm of government reaching into our wallets. Contrary to the narrative, tolls are no longer a 'user fee' where only those who use the toll lanes pay for them. When $326 million in our gas taxes will be used to subsidize the construction of toll lanes inside Loop 1604, everyone will pay for them. But only the select few who can fork over up to $23 a day in tolls will be able to use them.

    That's right. The plan calls for dynamic tolling where the toll rate changes in real time and can reach the maximum during peak hours, which is $.50/mile. So if you need to drive all 23 miles during rush hour, you're looking at $23/day in new toll taxes to use lanes your gas taxes helped pay to build. That's double taxation and warrants a taxpayer revolt. Tolls, once imposed, tend to never disappear. If it's one thing a government bureaucrat won't give up, it's an unaccountable revenue stream in the hands of unelected boards. They can always find a use for your money.