Sunday, July 22, 2007

TxDOT’s Sunset Review Kick-Off Party & Media Blitz

tKeeping An Eye on Williamson County - Friday, July 20, 2007
In what looks like a media blitz to show that TxDOT was right all along, and to justify it’s continuing existence in relation to it’s upcoming Sunset review, TxDOT this week is holding it’s Texas Transportation Forum toll-gasm conference.

Much of the focus has been on a draft report of a soon to be released “independent” report - TxDOT paid $3.5 million for the report - that says:

Texas needs more toll roads, and drivers should pay more to use them, an external audit of the Texas Department of Transportation suggested Wednesday.

(Kuff’s response):
I like that “priced to reflect the value - including the time saved” line. Because, of course, if you keep your toll roads expensive enough to guarantee that they’re never crowded, then it’s a self-perpetuating justification. Better yet, if you ensure that the remaining non-toll roads are sufficiently decrepit and jammed up, you’ll also have a built-in reason to keep raising tolls in the future. What more could a local toll road authority want?

A TxDOT paid for “independent” audit that reaffirms TxDOT’s toll every road stance. That’s just a happy coincidence for TxDOT I’m sure. Although the forum is billed as a chance to, “Experience the vision. Share your ideas. Join the conversation. Keep Texas moving”, in reality it appears to be more a way to bring lawmakers and those who make money off of government transportation deals together:

…the need for toll financing and other alternatives to gasoline taxes is a major theme of the conference that brought together public officials and private contractors from across the state.

The audience that packed the Hilton ballroom found in each chair a Texas Department of Transportation brochure titled “TxDot: Open for Business — A Guide to Accelerating Transportation Projects.” [.PDF]

The booklet explains various strategies approved by the Legislature in 2003 to supplement tax revenue with toll financing, public-private partnerships and regional mobility authorities.

The conference coincided with the release of an audit by TxDOT, suggesting the state’s best chance for keeping up is to build more toll roads with higher fees.

Now the report, as Move It! explains, has one point that may be worth further exploration. It’s a plan based on making ALL drivers pay a user fee based on vehicle miles traveled:

A long-term answer is to switch from a tax on gas to a tax on how much people drive, called a vehicle miles traveled charge or VMT charge. Oregon finished testing such a system in March and a report is due this summer.

“Texas needs to lay the ground work to move to a VMT charge over the next 20 years,” the report says. (see Oregon Test [.PDF]).

The technology for the implementation may still be a little ways off but this has the potential to be a fair, broad-based tax that charges drivers for the amount of driving they do.

One last thing. Gov. Perry was quoted as saying this:

And the fuel tax “has problems on its face,” he said. Unlike toll roads, which typically have a free alternative, fuel taxes are paid by all drivers, and hit rural residents hardest.

“The boys out in Lubbock, Odessa and Marfa really don’t see the benefit in it for them,” he said.

When Gov. Perry runs around the state telling Texans that we have to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, and take away precious farmland and family legacies, he says it must be done to benefit all of Texas. The “conservative” staple excuse of using economic development as the reason when it benefits their cause. But in those sentences he’s refuting that statement by saying that toll roads only benefit urban/suburban Texans. Which is it governor? Either our highways are built for the benefit of ALL Texans and should be funded by ALL Texans or they shouldn’t. You can’t have it both ways.

Again I’ll refer you back to EOW’s earlier post on the “independent” audit, It’s Not The Size Of The Shorfall, It’s How It’s Made Up That Matters. No matter how we want to slice it, the ultimate question is, How do Texans want to pay to make up for the disrepair and neglect our state leaders, and ultimately ourselves, have allowed our transportation infrastructure to fall into in this state? EOW believes the best way to do this is in the fairest, and most broad-based, way possible, which at this time happens to be raising and indexing the gas tax.

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