Texas lawmakers oppose tolling of interstates

| 9/5/2007

A U.S. senator from Texas has said she will “vigorously oppose” a TxDOT proposal to turn interstates into toll roads while a state senator says interstate tolls will never happen on his watch.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, said she will introduce federal legislation to prohibit states from tolling interstates. Similar legislation passed as a Senate amendment in 2005, but the House failed to approve the bill.

Hutchison’s promise comes in response to a recently publicized report that was released in February by the Texas Department of Transportation. That report includes a proposal to urge the U.S. House and Senate to authorize states to “buy back” interstates so they can be converted into toll roads.

Hutchison said tolls on interstates amount to a double tax on highway users.

“I will vigorously oppose any effort by the state of Texas to buy back existing interstates and convert them into toll roads,” Hutchison stated in a press release. “Texans should never have to pay twice for a highway and I will fight any such efforts.”

The U.S. DOT – specifically the Federal Highway Administration – has six existing pilot programs related to tolling interstate highways for purposes ranging from new construction to congestion reduction.

Hutchison has not specifically addressed how her legislation would affect those FHWA programs, which exist as a component of transportation legislation passed in 2005 known as SAFETEA-LU – the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users.

Meanwhile, on the state level, Texas state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, has echoed Hutchison’s opposition to double taxation.

“It is an outrageous idea and not one that would be supported by the Texas Legislature,” Carona told Land Line this week.

Carona said he is not against all forms of tolling, though.

“While I think toll roads ought to be part of the mix of transportation options in this and any state, to rely exclusively on toll roads as we move forward is wrong-headed and clearly not something the general public would support,” he said.

Carona says he is against the TxDOT proposal called “Forward Momentum,” which the state DOT issued to the U.S. Congress in February.

In the report filed as part of TxDOT’s legislative agenda, transportation officials called for fewer restrictions on tolling interstates, authorization for states to buy back interstates, and, asked the government to shelter revenue earned by private investors on toll roads from income taxation.

Lawmakers like Hutchison and Carona are vowing not to sit idly by in their respective senates.

Carona suggests an alternative to tolling.

“While we need to include toll roads as part of the transportation mix, what we need to be doing in Texas is raising our motor fuels tax and indexing it for inflation,” Carona said. “We’ve not raised the motor fuels tax in this state since 1991 and we’re long overdue for that.”

– By David Tanner, staff writer