Legislative Neglect Is Reason For Toll Privatization Deals

Posted in Around The Nation, Around The State, Road Issues at 12:01 pm by wcnews

It’s becoming more and more obvious by the day that our transportation infrastructure problems in Texas and in the United States are due to neglect by our elected representatives. It’s also becoming clear that the years of neglect is why some elected officials are trying to push us into “free money” privatization deals instead. But two articles linked below show that the media is catching onto the game and hopefully more sunlight like this will only help to show what a bad deal these privatization scams are and also force legislators into making the right decision.

Bud Kennedy at the Startlegram is starting to get it on tolls, At intersection of Slow Street and Costly Road.

A simple trip from downtown to the speedway in the new toll lanes — never even leaving Fort Worth — will cost about $3.

If you want to drive to D/FW Airport or Dallas in the fast lane, that’ll cost about $4.

Two toll lanes northward along Interstate 35W and two lanes eastward along Texas 183 are planned as part of the North Tarrant Express, a $2 billion project that involves hiring private companies to widen our highways, then letting them charge us for the pleasure of driving in the new lanes.

Right now, the profit would go back to the private companies, some of them backed by foreign investors. We might not be able to add any free lanes for up to 50 years. Only more toll lanes.

The toll would go up every two years based on inflation.

If inflation in the next 50 years matches that in the last 50, then by 2060 a fast drive to the speedway will cost $18.

Driving the toll lanes to the airport or Dallas will cost $22.


County Judge Glen Whitley, a Hurst Republican, is gung-ho to get the new lanes added right now.

Even though the commercial, for-profit toll lanes might or might not be the best deal over time, they’re the fastest way to get Interstate 35W and Texas 183 traffic moving, he said.

“I know some profit would go to Spain,” he said, referring to Madrid-based Cintra, a company that owns and operates private toll roads in six countries and might be among the bidders for the North Tarrant project. “But that’s the price we’re paying for the state’s failure to fund needed infrastructure.”

In other words, if the Legislature won’t raise gas taxes and send the money our way instead of out to rural West Texas, then we’ll just have to get corporate dollars to build highways faster.

“Nobody likes talking about toll roads,” Whitley said. “But we’re not getting the help we need.”


If you don’t mind paying a $3 toll to drive the new lanes on Interstate 35W — or if you’d rather wait and lobby Austin for more free lanes — now is the time to let city, county and state officials and lawmakers know.

Next we see that toll road privatization rip-offs are now known to be so nationally and not just in Texas. See this one from Jay Bookman in the AJC, Leases on toll roads a rip-off, (link via Sal, via Corridor News).

But of course, to make such an arrangement work, there’s gotta be a sucker somewhere. Look in the mirror. You’re it.

Think for a moment about the nature of toll roads. They depend on a captive market of travelers who have little or no choice but to pay extra to get where they need to go. That doesn’t mean that tolls can’t be an appropriate, useful way to finance roads. When travelers are tapped to finance the particular highway they use, such as Georgia 400, a toll essentially becomes a users’ fee, particularly if the tolls are removed once the project is paid off.

The concept of long-term leases, however, takes that approach to a whole ‘nother level. In Indiana, Texas and elsewhere, government is putting its captive market of toll-paying travelers in the hands of a private company, which is free to generate new revenue by jacking those tolls higher than elected officials would dare.

That’s where the “free money” paid to state governments really comes from — higher tolls paid by their own citizens.

The long-term leases offer a way for government to privatize a tax hike. Even worse, that higher tax will be paid solely by the users of those toll roads, while revenues from that project benefit the entire state.

It’s hard to blame Linnenkohl and others in his position — they are simply responding rationally to an irrational situation. State governments are in dire need of hundreds of billions of dollars to build highways, transit systems and other transportation infrastructure, and current gasoline taxes can’t generate that kind of money.

The federal gasoline tax of 18.5 cents a gallon, for example, hasn’t increased since 1991, even while the cost of highway construction has soared. As a result, the federal Highway Trust Fund is projected to run dry by 2009. At the state level, Georgia’s gasoline taxes haven’t been increased since 1979, and they too have become grossly inadequate to the state’s needs.

Nonetheless, state and federal representatives claim that trying to raise the gasoline tax would be political suicide. That’s nuts. Gasoline prices now jump 30 cents a gallon in a week or two, with much of that additional money going overseas so that Arab sheiks can build ski slopes in the desert, and nobody even blinks an eye. Yet Georgians aren’t smart enough to accept a 10-cent-a-gallon increase, introduced over a number of years, with all the revenue to be spent here at home on their own behalf?

By refusing to even consider the rational step of raising the gas tax, we are forcing governments to turn to convoluted and grossly inefficient methods of fund-raising such as leasing toll roads — and their captive markets — to private firms.

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