There has to be something seriously out of balance when the State of Texas is considering selling off public roadways to foreign entities to maintain the highway transportation infrastructure. Have we lost the discipline required to plan forward, or are we going to settle for toll roads controlled by foreigners?
Last Legislative session the Texas Senate took up consideration of a bill that would enable Bexar County roadways, including 281 and 1604, to be converted into toll roads. Instead of announcing the enabling legislation as providing the necessary legal foundation to move forward on the plan, members of the legislature chose to trivialize the event and down play the possibility that it would ever happen. But now, when the best efforts of our public officials fail, we can all throw up our hands and say, "we tried".
Historically, the State of Texas used toll fees as a means of financing the building of future freeways. When the underlying debt was retired, the toll booths came down, and future maintenance and repairs were funded through various transportation related taxes and fees. The tollway became a freeway after the borrowed money was repaid. An example is highway 30 connecting Dallas and Fort Worth.
The first permanent tollway in Texas was the Dallas North Tollway that originally ran from near down town to the outer 635 LBJ freeway loop. With the help of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition, The Dallas Tollway system has expanded considerably, now spanning much of prosperous north Dallas and the mid-cities with more segments under construction today. Also, Houston's 610 tollway was built and other sections of their highway system were redeveloped to include toll road segments. We, in this area, now share a bankrupt toll road that runs from Seguin to Austin's north side.
Recent news announcements have tipped the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority cards, revealing that, as suspected, Hwy 281 north of Loop 1604 is being planned to toll all highway lanes, forcing non-toll paying traffic to use service roads and neighborhood shortcuts. And, as predicted, there will be no free lanes of this major through-way. Instead, the only toll-free lanes will be service roads clogged by stop and go traffic through numerous signal-controlled intersections.
One might ask, "What drives public servants to undauntingly push tolling of public roadways when the citizens are so vehemently against the idea?" When the bond program was passed that provided funding for overpasses, why were traffic lights and turn-around lanes installed instead? Clearly, the postponement of the overpasses and the installation of traffic signals made the congestion problem and the public frustration worse. Some conclude this was a purposeful step in the roadway tolling plan to insight outrage and sway public opinion to support the toll road solution.
When the streetcar débâcle was in full flame, the city laundered millions of highway dollars by returning the money to the state, then requesting it back to fund the streetcars. They got the money. But, when the streetcar project went belly up, was the money returned to the fix the congested highway fund? Well, no.
The situation has become so toxic that many are willing to bite the poison pill and play dead while the freeway is high-jacked by toll-mongers. In the 1980's the distance from the Monte Vista neighborhood to the Guadalupe bridge could be traversed in a matter of 45 minutes. Due to the city's lust for revenue, too many residential building permits have been issued for the roadway infrastructure. Making that same run in under 90 minutes today would be a cause for awarding a trophy.
Over population and high density residential developments will eventually consume the capacity and drive the territory to saturation. Nothing good has come from looting and squandering the funds that were originally set aside for planned obsolescence of our roadways. And, nothing good will come from rolling out the red carpet by paving the road travelled by the migrating hoards. We are facing a decision as to what legacy will be left to those who will come after us. Would you encourage your progeny to stick around and pick up the tab? One thing is for sure. At some point it will become unsustainable and undesirable. And, the cancerous growth in revenue grubbing and spending will cause the machine to grind to a halt. Is that the plan?