Road Revenue: Texas Considers More Toll Lanes

Texas is at a crossroads, so to speak. The state is facing an estimated $5 billion budget shortfall due to the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, at the same time Texas highways grow increasingly congested and outdated as millions continue to move in from out of state. To try and solve this, the Texas House Committee on Transportation has convened an interim virtual hearing to study how to fund new and expanded roads--and not surprisingly, toll roads are a large and polarizing part of the issue.

One of the state's largest stakeholders, the Texas Association of Business, has formed a coalition called Keep Texas Moving to push for new private investment for Texas roads, through public-private partnerships and increased toll lanes. The group touts private investment and toll lanes as a way to relieve highway congestion while freeing up state tax dollars for other priorities.

But anti-toll activists don't see it that way. Terri Hall with Texans for Toll Free Highways says toll roads are basically a big scam for local governments. "They love tolls because they can ratchet up that tax so fast without any accountability to elected officials or the public, but also because that revenue can be spent on virtually anything they want," she tells KTRH.

Hall argues that more tolls will only hurt commuters at a time when unemployment is up and many people are struggling financially due to the pandemic. "We're seeing the likes of anything from 12 to 24 dollars a day just to get to and from work," she says. "Well, that's unsustainable over the long term."

The push for more tolls comes even though Texas voters approved two ballot measures in 2014 and 2015 diverting state money from other areas specifically to the state highway fund, resulting in an estimated $14 billion added to the fund.

But unlike the money in the state highway fund, revenue from tolls doesn't have to be spent on highways...and that is why critics like Hall don't support groups like Keep Texas Moving. "They want a slush fund," she says. "They don't want to be accountable to the taxpayers, and they don't even seem to care that we're in the middle of an economic crisis we have not seen in a generation."

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