Texas bills would end tolls; others would expand tolls

April 8, 2021

Keith Goble

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Multiple bills in the Texas Legislature cover toll collection cessation and the continued collection of tolls.

One Senate bill is intended to ensure an endpoint in the collection of tolls.

Sponsored by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, SB756 would mandate that toll collection end once costs to construct the roadway are fully paid. The rule also would apply once any associated bonds are covered.

Once costs for the roadway construction are fulfilled, the toll road would be designated as a state highway and maintained through state funds.

Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, is the House sponsor of the bill. He has concerns about comprehensive development agreements that authorize public-private partnerships for the continued building of toll roads.

“The toll road mafia has quite a hold here (in Austin),” Hall posted on social media. “We have a fight on our hands to make sure there are no (comprehensive development agreements).”

A similar House version from Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, would remove toll collection from highways once costs of acquisition and construction of the project has been paid. At that time, the affected roadway would become a part of the state highway system.

HB1117 marks the second time in as many regular sessions that Shaheen has introduced legislation to remove tolls. He says state government needs to step up to address funding needs.

The government’s job is to provide roads that are funded through existing tax structures… and historically the Legislature has underfunded transportation, causing the need for toll roads,” Shaheen previously stated.

The bills await consideration in committee.

Anti-toll group speaks out

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, or TURF, and Texans for Toll-free Highways are among groups calling on legislators and state leaders to take action to stop continued tolls in the state.

“Rather than remove tolls, TXDOT and toll agencies obligate surplus revenues from a road (or road segment) that is actually paid off in order to secure bonds on another road or segment,” a coalition statement reads. “These agencies employ multileveraging schemes and accounting gimmicks to tie into one big toll ‘system.’”

As a result, the coalition states governmental entities are able to continue adding more toll lanes to their system, while telling the public the original road or segment is never paid off.

They add that the practice goes against the Texas Constitution.

More toll projects pursued

Legislation to ultimately end the collection of tolls are not the only efforts at the statehouse on the topic.

One House bill would authorize more toll projects to be authorized annually. Sponsored by Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, HB3968 would permit The Texas Department of Transportation to enter into a comprehensive development agreement for up to two more projects per year to get the go-ahead for construction.

Proposed projects would be required to have estimated costs in excess of $1 billion. Additionally, each project must be approved by voters in the affected counties.

Tolls eyed for I-35 expansion

One more bill covers a proposed comprehensive development agreement to develop and expand a stretch of Interstate 35 in the Austin area.

Sponsored by Rep. John Cyrier, R-Lockhart, the bill would make the stretch of highway from Texas 45 in Round Rock to Texas 45 in southern Travis County eligible to be tolled through a public-private partnership.

The cost to expand the 28-mile stretch of highway is estimated at more than $7 billion.

HB2114 is in the House Transportation Committee. LL

More Land Line coverage of news from Texas.

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.