Legislature's road 'fix' leaves taxpayers broke

Emphasis on toll roads will come with a $36B price tag
Pay now or pay more later "Tolls are the most expensive option and must cease to be the most-used option. This toll tsunami is on autopilot and we must declare no more." -Terri Hall, Texans for Toll-Free Highways

It wasn’t broke, but legislators years ago decided to “fix” the way Texas finances road construction.

That fix was to stop using the pay-as-you-go system that worked well. But our cut-now, think-later state leaders showed little foresight in the new demands on the Lone Star state’s infrastructure.

The state’s booming population, increased traffic from NAFTA and the rising costs of routine maintenance all had legislators’ attention, but the desire to cut taxes for short-term gains at the ballot box has left road financing in a pickle.

Paying off road debt will now cost the state $36.7 billion, the Texas Tribune reported last week. That’s hard to reconcile when our legislative leaders crow about having a “balanced budget.”

More annoying, it seems the move toward using toll roads to answer congestion problems will cost taxpayers even more. An initial study done by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in March estimated $30 billion to pay off these toll roads. A revised estimate, which includes “comprehensive development agreements,” puts that figure at the $36.7 billion number.

The review covered 53 state toll roads and 28 financial tolling systems around the state.

Someone is making a lot of dough from Texas taxpayers off these toll agreements, which were rushed into production by former Gov. Rick Perry with promises of being the best thing since sliced bread. Barren stretches of toll roads begging for drivers, such as the State Highway 130 stretch from San Marcos to Seguin, are not even beginning to pay for themselves. And who’s on the hook? Yes, taxpayers.

 

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