Texas Toll Roads - an examination of tolling and alternate measures
Nothing that has occurred in the last several years in Texas has been quite as controversial as the new and increased usage of toll roads for new road construction. We have heard many statements that the toll roads are being built as a money-making system for the state (and the Department of Transportation). Statements have also been made to the effect that the state is "selling" the state, one length of roadway at a time; that the current roads could be maintained by the state, with current state funding levels. The main complaint is that the roads of Texas have always been free, and should continue to be free. But are these arguments correct?
Texas Roads have always been free, and should continue to be free.
If we are going to be honest, the roadways for the state have NEVER been free. We have paid both state and federal gas tax for decades, now, and we also pay various taxes and licensing fees on our cars and our right to drive which go directly to the highway department in order to maintain the roads. Unfortunately, as we will soon see, the monies raised in this way cannot keep up with the state transportation departments needs, for a variety of reasons.
The current roads could be maintained with current state funding.
This is simply a false assumption, and it is so for a variety of reasons.
The Texas Department of Transportation has, for Fiscal Year 2006, a budget of $7,732,365,130.00.1 This sounds like a substantial sum, seeing as how the previous year’s budget was almost $2 billion dollars less. It is not a substantial sum, however; or, at least, not substantial enough.
First, this would assume that the state’s costs are not increasing. Unfortunately, it is. According to news reports, the “…cost of aggregate, steel, fuel and other materials necessary for construction inflated 34 percent, according to the Alamo RMA[Regional Mobility Authority]”.2 Then there are increases in the amount of money spent to acquire right of ways, planning and designing of projects, and other costs. As well, the money which is currently being gathered to fund road maintenance and building in Texas, is not all going to road maintenance or building.
At this time, 18.4 cents is gathered as a federal gasoline tax, and 20 cents is gathered as a state gas tax. However, the federal tax is sent to Washington, and we only receive back 87 cents of every dollar sent (the rest goes to other states). As an example of this, Rhode Island gets back $2.10 for every dollar in gas tax that they send to Washington. For the state gas taxes gathered, it is even worse.
Of the money gathered by the state, almost 1 billion dollars is sent to other state agencies (such as the Department of Public Safety, Education, and other state colleges and state parks).3 This money is regulated by the state government to go to these other agencies, which detracts from the department of...