Texas bill package fights tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Friday, March 06, 2015

A bill package in the Texas Legislature is intended to rein in the authority of unelected bureaucrats to approve toll roads.

Republican Reps. Scott Sanford of McKinney, Jeff Leach of Plano and Matt Shaheen of Plano recently announced a series of bills that would exclude toll roads from the list of options to pay for road and bridge work.

The lawmakers say that people who live in areas served by toll roads are paying more taxes in the form of tolls for what the lawmakers feel should have been funded by taxes paid to the state.

To make matters worse, the lawmakers say that citizens feel left out of the process when it comes to transportation policy and decision-making.

Dubbed “Toll Free Texas,” a nine-bill package is intended to move the state away from toll roads and toward public accountability and transparency.

One bill, HB1734, would require county commissioner courts to approve toll projects in their jurisdiction. Toll road entities such as the North Texas Tollway Authority would also be required to relinquish tolled roadways to the state and remove any tolls once the toll revenue bonds for a project are paid in full.

Shaheen said the state cannot allow tolls for roads people use every day to become a “de facto tax into perpetuity.”

“HB1734 returns tolling to its traditional purpose: a temporary funding mechanism that is removed once the roads are fully paid-off,” Shaheen said in a news release.

The bill would also prohibit tolling entities from changing any finance agreements to extend the amount of time until the project is paid in full.

A separate bill, HB1834, would require toll roads to be paid out in 20 years and changed to a toll-free roadway.

“Toll Free Texas will take time, but will begin moving Texas back toward great roads paid for by tax dollars, not tolls,” Sanford stated. “And, in the event a community desires and approves a tolled project, it must be ‘paid off’ and become a free roadway within 20 years.”

Sanford added that HB1834 “moves the decision-making process closer to the voters by having toll road decisions made by elected officials instead of career bureaucrats.”

Another bill, HB1183, would require county commissioners to approve toll projects via comprehensive development agreements in their jurisdiction.

Shaheen said the bill is intended to stop a toll lane proposal on U.S. 75 in Collin County.

“Counties have been left out of the CDA process that routinely ignores major citizen opposition,” he said. “This legislation will give our county a voice on this issue.”

Two bills from Rep. Leach would provide methods to boost highway funds. HB202 would send 50 percent of the sales tax revenue to highways. HB203 would target all tax revenue from the sale of motor vehicle parts and tires for non-toll roads.

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