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Texas Pushes to Add Tolls to Interstate Freeways
Tolls may be added to nearly all interstate highways and state freeways in Texas.

Forward Momentum cover
Driving in Texas could get very expensive as the state seeks new ways to collect money from existing roads. The Lone Star state is just one step behind Pennsylvania, which, earlier this month, filed an official request to impose a $25 tax on motorists who use an existing, free interstate highway. Now the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is lobbying Congress for blanket authority to toll Interstates 10, 27 and 35.

"Tolling isn't an easy or popular decision for states, but TxDOT is leading a national
trend toward innovative financing," stated Forward Momentum, a TxDOT report presented to members of Congress earlier this year. "Congress must upend institutional thinking and embrace innovation."

TxDOT's proposed innovations include:
  • Imposing a tax on motorists driving on existing federal interstate freeways
  • Increasing TxDOT's ability to borrow money
  • Exempting private companies that operate toll roads from federal taxation
Because federal law prohibits the addition of tolls on freeways that have already been constructed with federal money, TxDOT wants to repay these funds so that it can buy its way out of the obligation to maintain them for free use. To obtain the money to do so, one option for TxDOT would be to sell the road to foreign investors, as happened in Indiana. In return, the investors would collect tolls on the freeway and share a small portion of the tax-free revenue with TxDOT.

The agency has already embarked on a proposal to add tolls to its own freeway network. Texas Toll Party founder Sal Costello described TxDOT's plan for the Austin area which would spend nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in gas tax money to convert existing state highways including 290, 71 and 183 into toll roads.

"This is an unacceptable double tax," Costello said. "The $700 million in tax dollars should be spent on new capacity freeways, not tollways."

The interstate highway tolling plan fits right in, Costello said. "Why toll only tax-funded freeways when you can toll tax-funded interstates as well?"

TxDOT complains that it does not have enough money from conventional funding sources such as federal and state gas taxes, sales taxes on automobiles and parts, registration and licensing fees, and traffic tickets. For each dollar Texans spend in federal tax at the gas pump, only 70 cents comes back to be spent on highway projects. Of this amount, a billion dollars is wasted, according to the TxDOT report. Over $333 million appropriated for Texas must be spent on items such as hike-and-bike trails. An additional $669 million was earmarked by individual members of Congress for projects in their own districts.

"While this may seem like a substantial and useful sum, approximately a third of the total dollar amount was designated for projects that had not been previously approved via a statewide or regional planning process," the TxDOT report stated.

US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) reacted strongly against the TxDOT proposal in a statement issued today.

"Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway and I will fight any such efforts," Hutchison said. "I intend to immediately introduce as free-standing legislation my amendment that the Senate passed in 2005 to specifically prohibit states from tolling existing interstate highways."

The full report is available in a 323k PDF file at the source link below. If you like our articles, be sure to sign up for free email updates or our RSS feed.

Source: PDF File Forward Momentum Report to Congress (Texas Department of Transportation, 2/28/2007)

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