2/25/2015Texas Bill Would Reform Toll Roads
Texas state lawmaker would mandate the transformation of toll roads into freeways after they are paid off.
One of the least commonly fulfilled political promises is that a road's tolls will go away once the construction loans have been paid off. The officials making such assurances know that they will be long gone before the loans are paid twenty to ninety years in the future. Texas state Representative Matt Shaheen (R-Collin County) hopes to change the state of affairs with legislation forcing the conversion of toll roads into freeways with a bill he introduced on Monday.
Most commonly, toll road obligations are continually extended so that they are never fully paid off. In California, for instance, the floundering Foothill-Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency decided to refinance the bonds for the 241, 261 and 133 toll roads in Orange County. So instead of the roads returning to the taxpayers in 2040, as originally promised, they cannot return until 2053 -- or later, if the debt is restructured again. The Texas proposal would outlaw this form of refinancing.
"A toll project entity may not amend a financing or other agreement in a manner that would extend the date by which a toll project would become part of the state highway system," House Bill 1734 states.
The measure would prevent government entities from dipping into the "surplus revenue" of toll projects to fund anything other than maintaining the turnpike and paying off its debt. It would also mandate that a toll road become a freeway once the costs of acquisition and construction of the road are settled.
"House Bill 1734 returns tolling to its traditional purpose: a temporary funding mechanism that is removed once the roads are fully paid-off," Shaheen explained in a statement. "We cannot allow the toll fees for roads we use every day to become a de facto tax into perpetuity."
Some toll roads are returned to the public after they are paid off. Motorists had been paying tolls for twenty years on the GA 400 near Atlanta, Georgia. The construction bonds had been paid off in 2009, but transportation officials insisted on continuing toll collection. Governor Nathan Deal (R) intervened, ordering the toll booths demolished in 2013.
A copy of the legislation is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.