Where to Spend the $2 Billion? Fix our Freeways Without Tolls


By Terri Hall l March 8, 2012

U.S. Route 281                                                                  North-South Hwy Mexico to Canada                                                         San Antonio to Johnson City, Texas
Source: Wikipedia

TxDOT recently ‘found’ $2 BILLION in extra money – $700 million anticipated from the federal government and $1.3 billion gained from efficiencies’ (and apparently unearthed from the spare change under the couch cushions, who knew?). Texans have been told this new-found windfall is to fund the State’s priority projects. This is a golden opportunity to take some of these controversial toll roads out of the plans and get our freeways fixed without new taxes – toll.

For instance, in San Antonio, improvements to US Route 281 have been the center of controversy for 8 years. The public was promised in hearings in 2001 that it would get the overpasses and expansion on US Route 281 funded with gas tax revenues (and remain a FREEway) until Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Legislature, and eventually the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) decided to turn everything into a toll road in 2003 & 2004.

Citizens have spoken out against tolling US Route 281 by overwhelming majorities (96% opposed), forcing two lawsuits to stop the toll road. With gas prices escalating, now is not the time to saddle already stressed commuters with higher taxes, tolls, to get to work.

US 281 needs to be top priority

Of all the projects that need to have non-toll funding restored, it’s US Route 281. The MPO’s bylaws state that the first project to lose its funding should be the first one to have it restored. This segment of US Route 281 is tied for the most congested road in the state, according to the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2011 Commuter Stress Index.

Bexar County being shorted

According to TxDOT figures for the last five years and the next five years, Bexar County and the San Antonio District have been and will be persistently shorted in both traditional and discretionary road funds. The San Antonio District received just $320 million or 5%, according to the most recent DISCO report, when it should be closer to 10% or 11%. Bexar County only received 2.87% of the state total compared to Tarrant County/Ft. Worth that’s almost identical in size to Bexar County that received 10.9% of the state total and the Ft. Worth District received $830 million or 13.1%.

Taxpayers rely on our elected representatives to secure the tax dollars we’ve put into the system to come back to our region to pay for desperately needed transportation projects. It’s simply not true to say there’s no money to fix our roads without tolls, when Prop 14, Prop 12, Stimulus money, and now this new-found $2 BILLION in funds have all come along since the US Route 281 toll road battle ensued.

TxDOT is legally bound by its own rules in the Texas Administrative Code that it cannot withhold funds due to a region if they choose not to include toll roads in their plans. Yet, the evidence seems to show Bexar County is consistently being shorted.

It only adds insult to injury when you consider the County, with the MPO’s blessing, stole $96 million in ATD road funds to install a street car line downtown where there’s NO congestion.

Gas price already hammering motorists

Government has figured out that instead of solving congestion, they can manipulate it for a profit (by keeping free lanes congested and forcing people to pay a premium to get mobility) and imposing tolls on all new capacity to our roads – even on EXISTING lanes that we travel today without tolls. The plan on US Route 281 is to slap tolls on every single existing freeway lane, leaving frontage roads with slower speed limits and permanent stop lights, as the only non-toll option.

It’s a huge DOUBLE TAX.

It costs 1-2 cents per mile to travel a gas tax funded freeway, but anywhere from 20 cents a mile up to 75 cents per mile to use a toll lane (depending on whether its publicly or privately run), greatly increasing the cost to travel when motorists are already being hit hard by escalating gas prices. A gas tax funded road costs PENNIES a day versus a toll road that costs DOLLARS a day and THOUSANDS more for the motorist in new taxes per year. Tolls are the most expensive and least accountable way to fund roads.

The way toll roads are being financed today, all Texans are paying to build them through subsidies of taxpayer money like the gas tax, but motorists won’t be able to use them without paying a toll, too. So whether a person can afford to take these toll lanes or not, they’re paying for them.

THIS NOTION THAT TOLLS ARE USER FEES IS A MYTH when you look at how heavily they’re subsidized by ALL taxpayers. You’re also paying for them through a higher cost of goods that gets passed on to consumers. Tolls are a new runaway tax in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, or worse, private corporations through pubic private partnerships.

Politicians love tolls because they can deny raising taxes as they get to outsource the tax hikes to unelected boards and also because they don’t have to vote to discipline the use of the gas tax (currently they raid the gas tax for non-road uses on both the federal and state levels, then they cry there’s no money to fix our roads without higher taxes). Tolls also absolve them from having to vote to raise the gas tax which hasn’t been raised in 20 years. Anyone who thinks they can pass off tolls as anything other than a tax hike thinks we’re stupid.

Steer clear of TOLL ROADS and don’t fall for the so-called ‘conservative’ rhetoric – it’s a DOUBLE TAX scam being perpetrated upon congestion-weary commuters. Just say ‘NO.’

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 eight turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.