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The Evil of Tolls

I’m going to state the feelings of many here, I’m sure, but I hate tollways. They are a very un-American concept and, frankly, I’m surprised that there isn’t more public venom spewed their way.

I get the basic argument for tollways: they provide better-maintained highway systems built via private companies and maintained by private companies or public partnerships. Traffic is lighter on toll roads (generally) so you get where you’re going quicker. Since gas tax pays for roads this eases the need to up gas taxs. I get it.

But don’t we already pay for roads? I mean, not to sound cliche`, but these are our tax dollars that are being used to fund toll roads. Some think that toll roads are actually a privately-funded endeavor, but in actuality they are a public-private partnership (P3) or a straight public-public partnership such as what we have locally with NTTA, in which the state grants a virtual monopoly for one company to build and charge for toll roads.

In our area of Texas this privilege belongs to the North Texas Tollway Authority. I’ve heard the rumor for years that NTTA was foreign-owned but that is not the case. However, I had to laugh when I read this off the NTTA website:

“Toll revenue generated within the NTTA Systems stays in North Texas to fund additional transportation projects. For example, the $3.2 billion the NTTA paid for the rights to operate, maintain and construct the Sam Rayburn Tollway is being put to work throughout North Texas on all types of transportation projects.”

All types of transportation projects means more toll roads. So, NTTA is touting the fact that our toll fees are being used to build more toll roads? Somehow, I’m not impressed and neither is my bank account.

Probably the worst thing that nearly happened was the Trans-Texas Corridor project that Governor Rick Perry tried to foist on the public. Luckily for those of us without great wealth, the project was ultimately shot down in 2010 after a huge public outcry and several town hall meetings in which hundreds upon hundreds of angry residents showed up to voice their disapproval.

The Trans-Texas Corridor project was slated to be a 4,000-mile network of privately built and operated toll roads spider-webbing across the state in which tolls for autos would have been charged as well as tolls for private companies to run water, gas and electrical lines. What lucky company would have been the beneficiary of this mega-contract to build and maintain these roads you ask? Spanish development company Cintra was pegged to be granted a 50-year monopoly on these toll roads and fees. Locally, the project would have looped from Gainesville all the way across the state.

Shot down though it was, parts of it live on in relative silence. Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) signed a development agreement in late 2012 for a toll road redevelopment of I-35 just north of Fort Worth. The uproar over TxDot’s moves, Perry’s planning and Cintra’s involvement has resulted in drivers in the southern parts of Texas boycotting these toll roads and forcing Cintra near bankruptcy. Just a few weeks ago, the Spanish company was scrambling to avoid defaulting on its SH 130 project, seeking to restructure $1 billion in debt. What this ultimately means for the I-35 tollway project is unknown at this time.

Charging us for using our toll roads leads to backdoor deals and rich developers while hurting the average Texan. Do you realize on some parts of the toll road it costs 75 cents per mile to drive on it? That is a lot of money when all is said and done.

Worst of all, it puts our state officials in bed with profiteers. I thought this little tidbit said a lot without saying a lot: according to WND.com, Chris Lippincot, the former TxDot information officer, is now the point man for Cintra in the United States. Chew on that for awhile.

Rodney Williams is the managing editor for The Anna-Melissa Tribune, Van Alstyne Leader and Prosper Press. He can be contacted at news@amtrib.com, rwilliams@vanalstyneleader.com or rwilliams@prosperpressnews.com.