Sparks fly as Texas senators discover numerous toll roads with no debt, prompts call to remove tolls

Many Texans are paying upwards of $300 a month in tolls just to drive to work. Since the privatized toll road projects opened, one has gone bankrupt, SH 130 (segments 5 & 6), and two in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex use dynamic or ‘congestion pricing’ (where the toll is based on the level of congestion) to soak the traveling public, charging up to $50 a day in tolls. Over a dozen Texas toll road projects were built with state and federal funds, no debt is owed, and yet officials charge tolls simply to profit off of congestion and use it as a means to control people and traffic.

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By Terri Hall l September 28, 2016

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The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) dropped a bombshell at a recent Senate Transportation Committee meeting during the hearing on its interim study on the elimination of toll roads. As TxDOT Executive Director James Bass laid out the numbers of how much it would cost to retire tolls on roads built with state funds (a whopping $39.9 billion), he revealed that many of the state’s toll roads are already paid for, yet they’re still charging Texas drivers’ tolls.

The use of public funds to subsidize toll projects was the subject of much consternation for the conservatives on the committee. Senator Lois Kolkhorst has twice authored the bill to make tolls come off the road when the debt is repaid. She was quick to jump in and grill Bass on a toll project in El Paso.

The entire project is paid for by state funds, yet drivers will be charged tolls to use it (it’s currently under construction). The project is jointly owned by the state and the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (or RMA), even though the RMA put no funds into the project. In fact, the state gave them $500 million in Texas Mobility Funds which granted the RMA ownership in proportion to that dollar amount, and the state paid the $130 million balance of the $630 million project with gasoline tax revenues. So the state gave away over 80% ownership to an unelected toll authority who will reap over 80% of the toll revenues for a 100% paid for highway.

It’s no wonder the senators suffered from shock.

“Let me get this straight. The state of Texas put money into a project and then gave half of the ownership to an RMA where they will forever in perpetuity get half of the revenue?”

Bass corrected her and said it was actually more than half the ownership and revenue.

“So this is what I don’t understand and this is the problem. The road is paid for…I’m just going to say this okay, because all of that is tax money, and that’s worse than I’ve ever seen…this is not right,” expressed Kolkhorst with frustration.

“Does that make sense to anybody in this room? This is what frustrates lawmakers like me when we try to give TxDOT money… It’s more expensive to build a toll road, so we paid more for it than we would have if it had been non-tolled,…so enough!”

Senator Bob Hall echoed her frustration and pressed it further, “There are numerous toll roads that have no debt on them, and they’re still being tolled.”

Over a dozen Texas toll road projects were built with state and federal funds, no debt is owed, and yet officials charge tolls simply to profit off of congestion and use it as a means to control people and traffic.

Hall keyed in on Bass’ statement that several of the toll managed lane projects in Dallas-Ft. Worth had no debt and charged tolls to ‘control traffic through pricing.’

Hall insisted TxDOT drop such a punitive approach that seeks to control people, punish and discriminate against the poor, and use something that’s cheaper to implement and doesn’t cost the driver anything, like today’s technologically advanced ramp metering.

Senator Don Huffines chimed in with similar sentiments concluding tolls “are segmenting society between those who can afford tolls and those who can’t and it’s bad policy.”

Many Texans are paying upwards of $300 a month in tolls just to drive to work. Since the privatized toll projects opened, one has gone bankrupt, SH 130 (segments 5 & 6), and two in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex use dynamic or ‘congestion pricing’ (where the toll is based on the level of congestion) to soak the traveling public, charging up to $50 a day in tolls.

Perhaps the most surprising concessions of the day came from Nichols’ himself. Known as the most ardent opponent of removing tolls in order to keep paying for road maintenance, Nichols actually advocated removing tolls from the Camino Columbia toll road. Tolls are generating ten times the cost of maintaining it.

Taking tolls off Camino Columbia would “to me, be a no brainer…you could pull the tolls down tomorrow if you wanted to,” suggested Nichols.

Nichols also asked TxDOT to study the effectiveness of HOV lanes. If it hasn’t actually successfully changed behavior, “I have a real problem with it,” expressed Nichols. “Police have more important things to do than count heads in an HOV lane.”

This is good news for toll weary commuters tired of being the guinea pigs of urban planners who delight in imposing road scarcity to manipulate people out of their cars and into a bus or carpool. Conservatives on the Senate Transportation Committee clearly got the message that tolls play into the hands of social engineers who want to control the populace and that tolls are abusive, while double-taxing Texans, threatening the sustainability of the Texas economic miracle.


Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of ten turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.