July 20, 2007
More toll roads, higher tolls

Take a look at your future, Texas. Do you like what you see?

Texas needs more toll roads, and drivers should pay more to use them, an external audit of the Texas Department of Transportation suggested Wednesday.

Sharply increased highway construction costs and cars that use less gas are two factors among several that mean the traditional means of paying for roads - the 20-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax - is no longer sufficient, the auditors said.

Therefore, more toll roads with higher fees have become the state's best hope for keeping up with demand for new or improved roads, said consultant Peter Mills of Washington state-based Dye Management Group Inc.

"Right now, toll rates are set at the lowest possible level, just enough to capture the costs of the roads themselves," Mr. Mills said. "We believe they should be priced to reflect the value - including the time saved - they bring to the drivers who use them."

Those recommendations and others were revealed Wednesday during a special meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission.

I like that "priced to reflect the value - including the time saved" line. Because, of course, if you keep your toll roads expensive enough to guarantee that they're never crowded, then it's a self-perpetuating justification. Better yet, if you ensure that the remaining non-toll roads are sufficiently decrepit and jammed up, you'll also have a built-in reason to keep raising tolls in the future. What more could a local toll road authority want?

Unfortunately, as long as the Lege lacks the spine to bring the gas tax in line with current pricing reality and revenue needs, we're going to hear more and more of this. If you don't like the sound of this, you might consider letting your Rep and Senator know - I can't see there being much chance of slowing this sort of thing down if there isn't action taken on the gas tax by the next session. And if you do like it, well, party on, Garth. You'll be getting what you want soon enough. Eye on Williamson has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 20, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Question: Instead of enacting a use-tax (in the form of tolls), why not increase general taxes and pay for the highways out of the general fund? That way, all Texans benefit (not just those who can afford tolls), and Texas is seen as an egalitarian state where everybody is treated the same regardless of who they are.

Answer: Because the party in power thinks it benefits from having people's attention drawn to the cost of government services by nickel-and-diming them, and because its core constituency are the people who can easily afford tolls and don't want to be associated with yucky poor people.

Posted by: Greg Morrow on July 20, 2007 12:26 PM

Answer: Raise the toll rates!

Question: (still looking for the question)

Posted by: Charles Hixon on July 20, 2007 7:13 PM