Plans have resurfaced to expand Loop 1604 across the north side and I-35 from Loop 410 to FM 1103 in Comal County using toll lanes, and that has prompted a state lawmaker to ask Attorney General Ken Paxton for an opinion on the legality of the plan, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
According to a plan presented to the Texas Transportation Commission, toll lanes would be used to help end a 'funding shortfall' in the amount of gas tax money which is available for the $882 million project to expand Loop 1604 from I-35 to Bandera Road, and for the very ambitious $1.5 billion plan to expand I-35, using largely elevated lanes.
Terri Hall, who heads the anti-toll group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, says when voters approved two major constitutional amendments designating billions of dollars from gas taxes and other sources to highway construction, they were promised that the money would not go to help build toll roads.
"They would not be able to do that project as a toll project without that subsidy," Hall said. "We think that (an Attorney General's opinion that blending the funds is illegal) would torpedo the 1604 toll project."
Hall says despite Gov. Abbott's pledge not to build toll roads, despite overwhelming opposition to toll roads, and despite voters approving billions of dollars more for non tolled highways, 'unelected boards,' mainly local Regional Mobility Authorities, are building 'toll lanes on steroids,' pointing out that the 'congestion toll' for one new toll road just opened in Austin is a dollar a mile.
"When you compare that to what it would cost you in a gasoline tax hike, what that $1 a mile turns out to be, that is the same as raising the gasoline tax by $25 a gallon."
State Sen. Bob Hall (R-Garland), who is not related to Terri Hall, puts it more bluntly than that.
"Toll taxes create a long-term penalty for the working class. At today's average cost of $5.00 each direction, it will cost the family of a worker - over the course of their lifetimes - in excess of $135,000 for the 'privilege' of using the toll lane," Sen. Hall said. "That's like taking a home or a couple of college educations away from that family, while they face a daily fee that could well be the equivalent of a $25.00 per-gallon gasoline tax. This is an outrageously unacceptable tax burden, and Governor Abbott must step-in to stop it before it's too late."
Terri Hall says her group will consider suing the local Regional Mobility Authority and the Texas Transportation Commission to stop the toll lane plans, if necessary.
She also called on Abbott and other members of the Legislature to approve new laws that would punish local officials for proposing toll lanes. She points out that after the failure of the SH 130 toll project, any toll road developers will require iron clad guarantees that any project they are involved in will include a 100% guarantee, which would mean 'triple taxation' for toll roads.
One tax would be the gas tax used to pay for a portion of the road, one tax would be the toll to drive on the road, and the third would be the tax money that would inevitably be guaranteed to hold the private contractors harmless for any debts.
"Either Gov. Abbott either meant what he said when he promised 'no more toll roads' or he didn't," she said. "He is running for re-election, so that puts him in a really tight spot."