The Plan Is To Toll Every Road, From Here To Eternity

Posted in Road Issues, Central Texas at 10:58 am by wcnews

With the election over CAMPO’s consultant, CRA International, has released it’s report on “Phase II” toll roads in and around Austin. Here’s Ben Wear’s treatment of this report, Study no boon for toll opponents. No boon, funny that’s exactly what Mike Krusee predicted back in June. Well anyone who’s been paying attention to this debate knows that there are many issues with toll roads across the nation not, shall we say, showing taxpayers the money, as the consultants predicted.My main issue with this report is that all the projections are based on URS Corporations traffic and revenue analysis which have been shown to be flawed in the past. Here’s how the game works in case you forgot:

Business is booming for URS and Vollmer because they have been using inflated numbers to help mislead investors about the risk of investing in bonds used to fund the projects. If the estimates are so inaccurate that the turnpike can’t pay its bills, they simply re-hire the same consultant to produce new exaggerated T&R numbers, then sell a new round of bonds.

Naturally, there is a financial incentive for URS, Vollmer and Wilbur Smith to inflate the projections. In most cases, when the bonds sell, the T&R contractor finds itself the winner in a no-bid contract for design and engineering work.

When the turnpike’s revenues are too far below projections, the taxpayers end up with the bill. The turnpikes play a ponzi-like game of calling back the same consultants to produce new T&R research that enables another round of bond sales.

The main focus of Ben Wear’s article in today’s AAS piece is the difference between the Phase II roads having all lanes tolled as opposed to managed lanes. Here’s the difference:

Managed lanes, roughly speaking, are lanes built alongside regular expressway lanes that might charge tolls for those driving alone but be free for carpoolers. On the other hand, the $1.9 billion Phase 2 toll road plan (distinct from the first wave of roads now opening) contemplates having tolls on all highway lanes, with free frontage roads alongside.

There is no mention of a gas tax option in his article. Charles Kuffner has made the calculation over and over and over again about how the “so-called-demonic-17cent-gas-tax” would actually cost much less than tolls.

They’re talking about an additional local tax on gas, since the state tax is 20 cents per gallon. I don’t really care about the details of this plan or the politics behind it, I just want to remind everyone of the numbers. So: If you use 40 gallons of gas a week - and remember, that’s the equivalent of driving 600 miles per week while averaging 15 miles per gallon - you’d pay an extra $6.80 per week with that 17 cent tax. I don’t know what the toll structure would be like on this road, but a full-distance round trip on the Westpark Toll Road would set you back $6.50 per day, or $32.50 per week, assuming no weekend driving. Just getting on and off the Westpark Toll Road as part of your daily commute is $10 per week. Tell me again what’s so damn scary about that 17 cent gas tax?

Those numbers are based on the Westpark Toll Road, which obviously has a much lower toll than what the Phase II roads will have. With these Phase II roads at 12 cents/mile (.pdf) that weekly expenditure goes up to $72 per week. The 17 cent gas tax brouhaha, don’t forget, was a study done by TxDOT - who has a dog in this hunt - and part of that gas tax number was “lost profits” and “hypothetical future bond sale”.

These toll roads as they are currently structured are a scam. As Kuffner makes clear above there is a clear difference between the money drivers will pay for tolls as opposed to a rise in the gas tax. We can toll every road from here to eternity - which is what our GOP/corporatist leaders of our state government want to do - or we can raise the gas tax. It’s the difference between a few dollars a month (less than $10) and $50 - $75 a month depending on how much you drive. Even the “I hate taxes” people out there should be able to understand that, in this case, raising the gas tax is a much better option.

1 Comment »

  1. Eye on Williamson » The "New Way Forward" On Tolls said,

    June 15, 2007 at 11:14 am

    […] obvious from that statement that TxDOT/Gov. Perry’s plan to toll every new road will continue. With yesterday’s TxDOT approval of tolling more than 80 new road projects in […]

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