Texas using stimulus money to build toll roads

| 4/13/2009

The Texas Department of Transportation plans to spend at least $255.3 million in federal stimulus money to build new toll roads.

Texas received $2.25 billion for highway programs from the federal government’s economic stimulus plan known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

TxDOT committed $1.2 billion of that funding to projects that are considered shovel ready. The project list includes three new tollway projects totaling $255.3 million. Two of the tollway projects also commit millions in state and local funding from fuel taxes.

TxDOT will use additional stimulus funds to expand capacity on existing roadways, some of which will use tolls to manage congestion. This is known as congestion pricing.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association understands that tolling is sometimes necessary when adding new capacity to the network of highways, but the use of tolling in Texas is widespread and seemingly without limit.

The Association is opposed to the use of federal stimulus money for toll roads.

“My instinct is that using taxpayer dollars to build a road that’s going to be tolled is almost triple taxation,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce. “They’re not only getting double taxed on a toll road, but federal tax dollars are also being used.”

Joyce said Texas is within its right to pursue tollways with stimulus money.

“It is true that there wasn’t any language in the stimulus bill to prohibit that,” Joyce said.

Without tolling, TxDOT officials say the roads would take an extra 15 years to get built.

New toll roads on TxDOT’s project list:

  • SH99, connecting Interstate 10 to U.S. 290 in Houston – $181 million from stimulus plus $216 million in other state and local funding;
  • LP49, connecting SH31 and SH155 in Tyler – $37.8 million from stimulus plus $19.2 million in local funding and earmarks; and
  • SH550, connecting Old Port Isabel Road and SH48 in Pharr – $36.5 million entirely from stimulus.

TxDOT also announced dozens of other highway projects that involve stimulus funds but do not involve tolling. These include widening projects, interchange replacements, bridge replacements and repaving to the tune of nearly $1 billion.

The intent of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act approved by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this year is to create jobs and get the economy moving.

“Texas is making the most of our economic stimulus funds,” said Deirdre Delisi, chair of the Texas Transportation Commission as the project list was announced. “We are working with local partners to build long-needed projects and to maintain a reliable and safe transportation system. Today’s vote reflects four months of hard work by TxDOT staff and community leaders. Now, it’s time to put Texans to work.”

TxDOT has spent $4.5 million promoting the use of tolling in the Lone Star State.

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has filed a bill to stop the advertising campaign.

– By David Tanner, staff writer