HOUSTON OF ALL PLACES IS SHOWING ITS LACK OF PRIORITIES IN SNAGGING $350 MILLION IN GAS TAXES TO SUBSIDIZE A TOLL ROAD.
By Terri Hall l May 3, 2012
Photo:Alamo Regional Mobility Authority
Good news for taxpayers. San Antonio’s Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) has been counting on the federal taxpayer to subsidize its toll project on Loop 1604 with a TIFIA loan. However, the feds just announced they denied the Alamo RMA a TIFIA loan on Loop 1604. They also denied the Central Texas RMA a TIFIA loan on the toll project on MoPac (the nickname for old Missouri Pacific Railroad right of way) in Austin. Without it, the Alamo RMA will be hard pressed to get enough financing together to pull off its first toll project in Bexar County.
Toll viability studies and MPO documents have shown there is no toll viable segment on Loop 1604 – NONE. In other words, there is not one segment of the 35 mile project that will pay for itself with just the money collected by those who use the road, the toll users. So instead of scrapping the toll idea, they’ve proceeded down the road of expecting public subsidies from EVERY taxpayer in Texas as well as across the nation in order to add lanes to the congested corridor.
So EVERY taxpayer will be paying to build the toll lanes, but only those who can afford to pay up to 50 cents a mile in toll taxes will actually be able to use the lanes in yet another DOUBLE TAX scheme concocted by our politicians. The toll tax rate would also be in the hands of the unelected bureaucrats at the RMA.
Thanks to a new state law, HB 1112, the RMA will also own Loop 1604 in perpetuity, if it gets away with slapping tolls on this freeway. This guarantees you’ll be paying tolls forever – Executive Director Terry Brechtel even admitted it at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) twice, on camera. It’ll never revert back to a part of the free state highway system again. Let that sink in a minute.
So, drying up the RMA’s funding sources will help ensure these ill-conceived toll projects will never be built. We need to expand our roads and keep them freeways, not plunge generations into risky debt schemes that are fiscally unsustainable.
Show me the money
Bexar County elected leaders have FAILED to bring home the ‘road’ bacon for nearly a decade, ever since Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Legislature orchestrated their sleight-of-hand with the switch from affordable gas tax funded roads to toll roads. Apparently their spines are made of wilted lettuce, since they’ve persistently failed to end the diversions of our road taxes to non-road uses and failed to secure the road money we send to both Austin and Washington.
State law prohibits the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), run by a 5-member commissioner appointed by pro-toll Governor Rick Perry, from withholding the allocations due to a region if it chooses not to include tolls in the mix. Yet that’s precisely what TxDOT has been allowed to get away with since the law took effect.
At last Thursday’s Commission meeting, it announced once again that San Antonio will be shorted its due allocation of the recent $2 billion TxDOT windfall by $50-70 million. We should be getting 10-11% by formula according to Texas State Representative Lyle Larson, which would mean $200-$220 million of the $2 billion, but in the Commission’s efforts to punish our community for its resistance to tolls, it only gave us $146 million.
Let me give you a little funding history.
In the last District and County Statistics Report for TxDOT, commonly referred to as the DISCO Report, it shows Tarrant County (similar in size and population to Bexar County) received 10.9% of the state total compared to Bexar County’s paltry 2.87%. The Ft. Worth TxDOT District received 13% compared to the San Antonio District’s 5%. Of the discretionary pots of money TxDOT has at its disposal (most often to coerce local officials into tolling), the San Antonio District has received only $349 million compared to Ft. Worth’s $834 million. Even the Pharr and Austin Districts receive more money proportionately than does San Antonio, getting $345 million and $479 million, respectively, when San Antonio is the second largest city in the state. (According to TxDOT, the DISCO Report “provides selected transportation-related statistics for each of the 254 counties and 25 TxDOT districts within the state.”)
When you look at those figures, it appears a whole lot like it’s more than a failure of leadership but outright malfeasance, instead, to allow San Antonio to ‘donate’ our tax dollars to everywhere else in Texas, while our roads sit in gridlocked congestion and taxpayers are being told there’s no way out of it other than paying MORE taxes through tolls.
The Executive Director of the Houston area MPO even thanked the Commission for moving money from outside Houston to the areas of the state “with the greatest need.” That’s socialism pure and simple, folks. Meanwhile, U.S. Route 281 is tied for FIRST place on the Texas Transportation Institute’s Commuter Stress Index as the THE most congested road in the state of Texas.
What a joke!
Houston of all places is showing its lack of priorities in snagging $350 million in gas taxes to subsidize a toll road – a DOUBLE TAX since your gas tax money is building the road and yet you have to pay a toll to drive on it. The Grand Parkway, a greenfield project where there’s NO congestion and NO traffic demand, is getting funded ahead of existing, congested corridors like 281 & 1604 in San Antonio.
If lawmakers ended the diversions of gas taxes to non-road uses at the state level, and if they dedicated vehicle sales taxes to roads (instead of dumping it into general revenue), Texans would reap $4 billion a year MORE for roads using existing taxes. That would TRIPLE the amount of money to San Antonio without raising a penny in new taxes on driving. That’s not counting what could be reaped from ending the federal gas tax diversions.
Not one politician in this region should be let off the hook for this persistent HIGHWAY ROBBERY. It’s time to show these ineffective local leaders the door. Speaker Joe Straus is chief among them. If they can’t prevent our money from being literally stolen by other areas of the state on their watch, they don’t deserve to serve the good people of San Antonio any longer.
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