September 04, 2007
Tolling the interstates?

Here's a story from the weekend that I daresay raised an eyebrow or two.

The Texas Department of Transportation is pushing Congress to pass a federal law allowing the state to "buy back" parts of existing interstate highways and turn them into toll roads.

The 24-page plan, outlined in a "Forward Momentum" report that escaped widespread attention when published in February, drew prompt objections Thursday from state lawmakers and activists fighting the spread of privately run toll roads.

"I think it's a dreadful recommendation on the part of the transportation commissioners here in Texas," said Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas.

"I feel confident that legislators in Austin would overwhelmingly be opposed to such an idea," he said. "The simple fact is that taxpayers have already paid for those roadways. To ask taxpayers to pay for them twice is untenable."


The report not only advocates turning stretches of interstate highways into toll roads, but it also suggests tax breaks for private company "investment" in such enterprises.

It seeks changes in federal law to allow the use of equity capital as a source of transportation funding. Along with that, it calls for altering the tax code to "exempt partnership distributions or corporate dividends related to ownership of (a) toll road from income taxation."

[Transportation Department spokesman Chris] Lippincott said he's surprised by the surprised reactions, noting the agency discussed the issue at four public meetings and sent a link to the draft report last December to all members of the Texas Legislature.

Besides, he said, state law would prevent the conversion of interstate highways into toll roads unless such a plan gained votes of county commissioners and taxpayers in a referendum.

Lots of stuff here. I don't understand the finances very well, so it's not clear to me why this is a "better" mechanism for funding road construction than what has traditionally been done. I have to agree with Commissioner Lippincott in that it seems like this whole idea will be a nonstarter. It's nigh impossible to imagine the Lege changing state law to make it easier to implement this idea, and under current law I can't imagine any county voting to adopt such tolls. Almost makes you wonder why TxDOT bothered to ask. On the other hand, given the great level of (well deserved) mistrust with TxDOT and its toll-road monomania, it's really not that hard to understand why people reacted as they did to this report, however unlikely this provision of it is to become reality. Link via Eye on Williamson, who has more.

UPDATE: More from the Observer blog.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on September 04, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Ok, so we have a road which was paid for with tax(payer) monies.

We intend to use more tax(payer) money to reimburse somebody so it becomes the property of the state.

We then charge the taxpayers to use the road they've already paid for twice.

Do I have this right?

Posted by: Charles M on September 4, 2007 11:36 AM

Looks like I'll have to get around in a balloon.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on September 4, 2007 12:34 PM

What it boils down to is coming out of the closet, yet again, for the GOP with their plans to tax (oh, oh, bad word, bad word! user fee, or, um, service fee, or, um, transportation fee, or, um, yeah, toll!!) people who don't already have six-figure or higher incomes to further enrich and accommodate those who do. What part of STEALING FROM THE PUBLIC has not yet sunk in about this???

Posted by: The_Other_Sarah on September 5, 2007 8:40 AM