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Toll Roads|Better for everyone, Part 3

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The last 2 days, we’ve discussed why Toll Roads are better for everyone. Here’s the last myth and then we’ll discuss some benefits.

Myth # 3: Why not raise the Gas Tax? That will solve the budget shortfall.

The third misunderstanding and a suggested alternative to the others where people say just raise the gas tax either a certain amount or a percentage of the current gas price. This actually puts the burden onto the poor forcing them to pay more for roads when they could drive on an updated version of their current road for free with less traffic since people will take the toll road to save time. Besides, why would you want to give more money to a state agency who has proved it can’t manage a budget, even double counting $1 billion?

The 2nd half of the third misunderstanding is the gas tax is currently being pulled to serve other agencies within the government minimizing the effect of the gas tax anyways. In addition, rising right-of-way land costs & construction costs add to the burden on the current and any future additional gas tax. If you want this changed, contact your local states representative. Last session legislation proposed changes, but it was voted down and you’ll have to wait ‘til 2011 for it to be addressed again. Until the gas tax is used only for roads, this option should not be considered.

Toll roads actually benefit the gas tax because additional access, roadway construction and every aspect of that construction gets paid for by the toll road financing, which removes the burden from the gas tax freeing up that money for other roads. In essence, it’s as if the gas tax was increased as a result because it’s ability to effect change has been increased as the burden has been removed from it.

So those are the three myths of toll roads and later today, I’ll point out a few major benefits.

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Toll Roads|Better for everyone, Part 2

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Yesterday I started an explanation of why I think toll roads are good for everyone. The myth we tackled yesterday was that it was double taxation. You are NOT paying twice to drive a toll road. Let’s move on before the a Anti-Toll Party hunts me down.

Myth # 2: It puts an added burden on the poor.

The second myth is they put an added burden on the poor or don’t provide the poor access. This frankly doesn’t make any sense.

Legislation currently doesn’t allow for existing roads to be converted to toll-only roadways, which means current roads would become upgraded frontage roads with tolled main lanes or new tolls roads would be constructed where none exist that typically include frontage roads (see 183A here in Austin). It doesn’t change the poor’s access, and actually improves what they currently drive on while decreasing the traffic along free frontage roads. 

Now I agree that sometimes those lights along the roads seem to be timed terribly which a conspiracy theorist can say is by design to get people to take the toll road, but I think it just shows poor work done by the City in timing the lights, especially the one at Toll Road Loop 1 and Howard Ln. It’s horrendous. And by the way, your city designs the majority of the traffic signal timing, we can’t fully blame TxDOT for that.

The 2nd half of this myth doesn’t follow as well since the poor can choose whether or not to drive the main lanes and pay the tolls. It’s designed to be a choice payment. You pay it if you want to, but don’t have to. Studies have shown that the majority of toll users are in the upper echelon of money-makers, so the case could be made that the burden falls upon the rich who choose to take it, but they are much less fun to defend and fight for.

How does the poor benefit?

No additional money is required of them except what they choose to pay.

The existing roads they use become upgraded roadways as a result and traffic decreases along their daily commute.

Their access is actually upgraded as a result.

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Toll Roads|Better for everyone, Part 1

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There are quite a few people who might disagree with me on this, but toll roads are better for everyone. Most of those people live in Austin which is the last of the major Texas cities to jump on the toll road bandwagon, but in the end will likely have the most toll roads per capita of any of the Texas cities.

How are toll roads better for everyone? The next few days I’ll tackle a few of the myths in an attempt to inform people about toll roads. I’m a transportation engineer, so I do have a stake in this fight which may be seen as a bias, but I’m not making any of this stuff up, this is my understanding of the situation.

There are three common misunderstandings regarding toll roads.

Myth # 1: It’s Double Taxation! I’m paying twice for a road!

The first myth is double taxation, that you are paying twice to use the road. That’s assuming the gas tax pays for the toll road, which it doesn’t. Even the TxDOT-run toll roads are funded by large loans from banks and grants from the federal government. They don’t come out of either the state or federal tax. The toll you pay is to pay back the financing money and interest required for construction and pays for maintenance. It has nothing to do with the gas tax.

Your gas tax was designed and intended to pay for free TxDOT roadways, which are Interstates, State Highways, some FM and RM roads. It doesn’t always play out like that as it is often used for other agencies at the state which continues to decrease the amount for roads. The gas tax in Texas totals to 38.4 cents/gallon of gasoline, which includes 18.4 cpg to the federal government and 20 cpg to the state. It hasn’t changed since 1991 despite rising prices of construction.

Your county property tax assists the county in paying for county roadways and a portion of the sales tax collected within the city limits pays for city public works and roadways. State sales tax is 8.25 cents on the dollar, the state collects that sales tax and then remits 2 cents of it back to Austin. 1 cent to the city, 1 cent to Capital Metro to ruin public transportation (sarcasm).

So the common idea that Toll Roads are double taxation and you are paying twice just isn’t a reality. The money actually goes into the roadway itself and additional roads and is more guaranteed to improve transportation locally in the long run than the gas tax itself.

Come back tomorrow for more…

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