American Transportation: Do we really need toll roads?

The U.S. and Other States on the Road for Tolls

Here in Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, and House Speaker Tom Craddick Texas will get more toll roads even if they have to kill Texas taxpayers/drivers financially to do it.

According to the governor and his “Lieutenants” in the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and legislature, they are trying to finance toll roads from a ‘new creative’ approach in taking tax dollars and retirement funds to ensure that their special interests make a fortune from toll roads.

This sort of “creative thinking” also is a force throughout the U.S. For many years the Bush administration has been trying to push for the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) [leading from Mexico through Texas and up to Canada]. Currently President-Elect Obama also is considering implementing toll roads to raise tax revenue to build and maintain roadways. Bad idea.

The number one fact about toll roads remains that they are NOT cost-effective over time and they generate long-term debt to the state, drivers and taxpayers. Furthermore, toll roads often create other problems.

There are reasons governments push for toll roads. Some governments throughout the world “…have introduced tolls in pursuit of a general policy to increase the extent of ‘use related payment’ or with the goal of reducing road use and internalizing the negative effects of road usage (e.g., congestion related prices). This is central to a ‘sustainable’ transport policy. In the Netherlands tolls are levied with the express intention of directing road users to other means of transport, both to ease road traffic conditions and to encourage use of the railways and inland waterways.”

In addition, there is little accountability and/or oversight re: toll costs and revenue of the toll roads once they are built. During the past decade Texans have seen how TxDOT has manipulated and bullied the legislature and taxpayers with fear tactics in order to push-through pro-toll legislation and have succeeded in developing and implementing toll roads in some areas. In the past several years watch-dog groups have sprouted to fight more toll roads and have shown some success in that effort.

Furthermore, most of the time, toll roads are infinite forms of taxation and costs of the tolls frequently are raised and/or manipulated by the toll management depending on dates, days and range of hours in a day [peak and off-peak hours]. Seldom are tolls removed once the roads have been paid for because it would be a loss of never-ending tax revenues. Frequently, states attempt to implement tolls on “free” roads — those roads that already have been paid for via road taxes.

In most states the gasoline tax had been developed and implemented to help pay for the building and maintenance of roadways; however, the tax has remained frozen for more than 1 decade. In addition, gas taxes also have become “slush funds” whereby the gas tax revenues have been diverted to other interests. Currently, there is sufficient concern about this at the national and state levels and legislators will have to modify and/or eliminate the gasoline tax and search for better source of road financing.

Raising toll costs has occurred frequently in the past; consequently, it will happen more often with future toll roads. Toll roads become private roads for those wealthy who can afford to drive on them. Often, poorer residents must use the toll roads because there are few comparable options open to them.

The rationale for toll roads is that there is a need by governments to remove themselves from providing the means of transportation. They cannot manage and operate such systems professionally as can private industry. Consequently, huge contracts are awarded road conglomerate privateers. Among these U.S. firms are Bechtel, Fluor, Kiewit, Parsons Corp., Parsons Brinckerhoff, Shirley Construction, Washington Group International, and Zachry Construction.

Government does not have an endless financial resource to continue providing transportation unless it markets or leases from private industry, so these conglomerates have become more desirable. Frequently state governments will sign a 70-year contract with a road company in which 80-percent of the toll revenue collected goes directly to the managing conglomerate. To attain such a contract a road conglomerate will provide a state upfront money in the millions.

A transportation system based on a pay for use plan continues to be the mold of the future. Truly, these toll roads are NOT in the best interests of the entire neighborhood communities, nor for all drivers.

Now that the bail-outs of various financial institutions is in vogue, the government is sure to push harder for toll roads as its holdings of our tax dollars dwindle — but don’t believe it!

It is another ploy along with the push to privatize various government programs and services, e.g., Social Security, Veterans Administration, Medicare and Medicaid, etc.

In truth, there are other methods of building roadways that must be researched that are more cost-effective. We as a nation must think “out of the box” when it comes to future transportation needs; however, currently our leaders at the national and state levels continue to view toll roadways as the solution. Unfortunately, toll roads are NOT the solution —they remain part of the problem — the problem is greed and profiteering.

The U.S. is in a perilous economic downfall and we must be very careful about forming partnerships with any of these overseas road conglomerates. Toll roads are not cost-effective over the long haul and are not in the best interests of U.S. communities. We must not provide such lucrative contracts to outside companies. A public works project under the oversight of our government and managed by U.S. businesses could be the means for developing, building and maintaining our roadways and other infrastructures [e.g., bridges, tunnels, harbors, etc.]. Doing so could provide millions of new jobs for U.S. citizens and permit our own American road corporations to make reasonable profits. We need to start “in-sourcing” our jobs and contractual obligations. We need to rebuild our own nation and strengthen our economy. We owe it to our grandchildren’s children.