How about we just fully fund TxDOT?

By Ken Esten Cooke —

Sometimes driving around the state’s capitol city feels like driving through New Jersey. Vehicles are being “dinged” for a buck or two every few miles. And that’s annoying to Texans, who value their automobiles and their autonomy — read: freedom.

How did toll roads outside Houston and Dallas ever get a foothold as “business as usual” in the state capitol? It seems every new construction around the Austin metro area, and even some upgrades, have been done as tolls.

Many of the private-public partnerships leave taxpayers uneasy. Having the Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure profit from toll roads (or the newer SH 130 Concession Company), leaves us wondering who’s benefiting and by how much. But private firms realize the halls of the capitol and governor’s mansion are so toll-road friendly now, they are proposing new projects themselves, such as a new road in the Metroplex floated by The Texas Turnpike Corporation.

Toll roads don’t always work out, though. Texas SH 130, the pay-as-you-drive loop reaching from near Waco to its intersection with I-10 east of Seguin, is under-performing.

Even the highest speed limit in the nation hasn’t proven enticing to drivers on the southern portion of Texas 130. The Texas Tribune recently reported that Moody’s Investors Service severely downgraded the private-public partnership and warned that a default may not be far off. That follows an earlier downgrade in April.

So, transportation planners are considering switching the two highways — making I-35 a toll road and making SH 130 free. People would pay to get from north Austin to their downtown job, or even just passing through from San Antonio to Waco. Wouldn’t you love to pay around $20 to be stuck in traffic from Round Rock to San Antonio on I-35?

We don’t hold out much hope in the current legislative atmosphere, but here’s a novel idea: Fund the Texas Department of Transportation adequately.

Texas hasn’t touched its per-gallon gas tax since 1991, yet our population has grown by more than 10 million. (Austin’s metro population since the 1990 census has more than doubled.) It should be tied to population growth so we can keep up with infrastructure needs.

As Ben Franklin stated, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Continuing to ignore our roads and bridges will cost more in the end, and it remains to be seen if private industry can do this any more efficiently than TxDOT.

Plus, our legislative leaders and their outsourcing of transportation decisions are ruining Texas driving. We’re seeing our wide open spaces in Texas turned into New Jersey.

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