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TxDOT Executive Director admits private toll road deals cost taxpayers more money than publicly owned and operated roads
AUSTIN—The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security and the House Committee on Transportation held a joint hearing yesterday to discuss Texas’ transportation funding crisis. State legislators grilled TxDOT officials on the agency’s operations and financial calculations, questioning them in detail about the costs of private toll roads to taxpayers, the role of local government in transportation planning, and the need for ongoing, stable sources of funding.
According to testimony given by officials from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the state will face a serious funding shortage in 2012 that will leave the state with no money to build roads at all. TxDOT officials and legislators alike warned yesterday of the 2012 funding “cliff,” when financing from the Federal Stimulus and Prop 12 bonds run out. At this point TxDOT will have to rely only on Fund 6 revenue generated from the state’s gas-tax to build new roads in the state.
“I want to make sure the public knows, from El Paso to Texarcana - 2012, no new roads,” State Representative Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) said at yesterday’s hearing.
Currently, gas tax revenue is used only for maintenance projects. When pressed by lawmakers, TxDOT officials were unable to answer the projected date they expect this revenue to fall below the threshold needed to cover maintenance expenses. The Department also admitted yesterday to diverting funds from maintenance to pay for congestion relief projects.
Legislators were especially interested in finding stable funding solutions that would allow Texas to avoid future private toll road arrangements.
“All we’ve been told for the last few years is that our only option is toll roads,” stated State Representative Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), pointing out that the last time a change in the gas tax was brought up during session was in 2001, when Perry threatened to veto the measure before State senators had a chance to vote on it effectively killing the bill in its tracks.
Representative Dunnam called out the agency for its heavy reliance on costly private toll road projects. “We know from our own common sense and also GAO reports that have been done that overall it’s cheaper to do it with public money than with private sector financing because nobody’s making profit,” Dunnam stated. TxDOT Executive Director Armando Saenz admitted that private toll roads cost more money than those that are publicly owned and operated.
“I think we should consider requiring some kind of truth in transportation language,” said Representative Dunnam who alluded to the fact that over the last three years there has been a movement in the language from toll roads to managed lanes and from toll roads to CDAs. “The public doesn’t know what a CDA is, and we should at least call these things what they really are,” said Dunnam.
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