Texas Spends $10m a Year Promoting Toll Roads

The Newspaper
by The Newspaper

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) spends more than $10m a year on public affairs. Using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, the San Antonio Express News found TxDOT assigned 63 employees to the Government and Public Affairs division, at an annual cost of $6.5m. Another 67 employees perform “media relations” duties, at a cost of $4m per year. The employee count does not include private contractors hired as lobbyists paid to wine and dine lawmakers in the hopes of landing earmarks, a controversial tactic that spawned at least one lawsuit. These efforts– indeed, the majority of TxDOT’s PR activities– have been primarily aimed at promoting toll roads. Last year, the agency delivered a report to the Texas legislature entitled “Forward Momentum,” designed to convince federal officials to give TxDOT the authority to toll existing freeways. Massive public protest s, most prominently against the Trans-Texas Corridor, forced TxDOT to change tactics. Since May, they’ve backed off from promoting tolling as the solution to Texas’ transportation problems.

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  • Pch101 Pch101 on Dec 01, 2008
    I used to do toll roads in Italy. Hated them but understood that they were a necessary part of the “socialist” gov’t who had so much to fund In theory, pay-as-you-go tolls are a libertarian, and therefore conservative, concept. Libertarians believe that it is unfair for non-users to support the users. They want these sorts of projects to be self-supporting, which means charging user fees directly to those who use the good. A socialist system would charge fees based upon the ability to pay. The poor would not have to pay; the wealthy would pay more. The theory of free roads is ultimately a liberal one. That would view transportation as a social good that needs to be paid for by everyone, including those who don't use it themselves, but little would be done to integrate social leveling into the price structure. In practice, there is no consistent rule of thumb that is used to determine whether or not tolls are charged. Some places use them, others don't, and underlying political theory has little to do with the policy.
  • Kevin Kevin on Dec 01, 2008

    There's a right way and a wrong way to do tolls. The right way is to *ADD* bountiful new gleaming roads to the existing infrastructure. This is what we're seeing, for now, in Central Texas, and it's great. If you don't want to pay, just use the old roads -- they're still there but relieved of the heavy traffic. You can be a total free rider and still benefit. This has been an absolute Godsend for my morning and evening commute (I pay the toll if in a hurry; otherwise I travel free). That's what's often missing from this reporting -- the free ways are still there; the toll ways are strictly new capacity (at least around here, for now). On the other hand, the money from that of course makes politicians greedy for more, and inevitably they next want to plant toll booths on every existing road in sight, with no expansion or improvements to compensate for it. Toll roads can be good but the situation requires never-ending vigilance because, yes, of course politicians are crooks.

  • Landcrusher Landcrusher on Dec 01, 2008

    PCH, This is why I don't fit in with the libertarians. Many of them, like Bob Poole of the Reason Foundation, look at tolls as this great way to put their ideology into action. In theory it works great, but in reality, it works horribly. First, the fuel tax is incredibly efficient. It's not perfect, but it's really easy on the citizens who simply pay at the pump. It acts as a user fee and as a pollution tax. Elegant, and simple. It keeps government small. Their job is to look at road use, do their best to predict patterns, and build roads. Without a hell of a lot of diligence, they can do this reasonably well. There are LOTs of compromises, but land use will often adjust for any mistakes. Now, if you completely switched to a toll only system, you supposedly get libertarian nirvana. We can theoretically now manage road use by raising and lowering fees in a "market" system. We get all sorts of "market information" to help with development. You pay for what you use, and by privatizing it, you really can get away with lots of pesky government types. Only one problem, it's a wet dream while sleeping on an electric blanket. What libertarian thinks that government isn't going to use all this for all sorts of corrupt uses and social engineering? Which one of these guys thinks that the private companies won't be just as bad as the government in it's abuses? They aren't normal companies, they are utilities, and those are always under the thumb of government. Did these guys all forget that most road building involves emminent domain? Do we really want the for profit folks using this power? Too many agencies use it to expand their budgets now (see Houston ISD land grabs for example). In short, these guys are only looking one layer deep into their own ideology or they would see that it's all about what they are against. We now have a HUGE government entity that we didn't even HAVE before the toll roads. Now, it gets worse... Kevin, Did you ever think that those extra roads should have been paid for by the fuel taxes of the people sitting in traffic? Let me tell you what happened in Houston. The roads that should be expanded that compete with tollroad, not to mention the roads that had been planned for decades that were replaced by the toll roads are not being built. All sorts of effort is taken to get you onto the toll roads. They layered the toll road system on top of the gas tax. Also, they used emminent domain to build those roads. Lastly, when the original toll roads were built, the toll was supposed to sunset at the end of the bonds, but instead, they rolled the old roads into a new "system" of roads so they could keep the booths up. I would bet dollars to donuts that the toll road folks are on a pension plan, and their jobs were supposed to be eliminated in the first place! It's not free that they built the toll road and you don't use it. You paid for it, and now can't use it without paying EXTRA. Government just got bigger and bigger, and they move the money somewhere else in a giant shell game.

  • Pch101 Pch101 on Dec 02, 2008
    This is why I don’t fit in with the libertarians. Many of them, like Bob Poole of the Reason Foundation, look at tolls as this great way to put their ideology into action. In theory it works great, but in reality, it works horribly. Yes, indeed. Libertarianism, like communism, is idealistic political fantasy that often fails in real world practice. Privately-operated toll roads often produce two results. They either fail, requiring government bailouts (you can't just shut down a big chunk of infrastructure simply because it isn't making money), or else they lead to the deterioration of other roads, because the private operators protest improvements to the free alternatives that help their competition. Meanwhile, in the interest of speed, the collection practices are becoming increasingly Orwellian, dependent upon black boxes and tracking devices. Is that what libertarians really want?