Things which peeve me Thursday – For whom the road tolls…

I am not opposed to the original concept of a toll road in which bonds are sold to raise money for building a roadway and a toll collected for its use to pay off the bond. Once the debt is retired, the toll is removed.

Many do not know that there was once a toll road connecting the central business districts of Dallas and Fort Worth. Now designated Interstate 30 and known as the Tom Landry Highway, only a few oddly-shaped interchanges give away the route’s former identity as the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike. It opened in 1957 and became free when the construction bonds were paid off in 1977, 17 years ahead of schedule. As it should be.

What bothers me is the modern concept of a toll road. It no longer matters when the construction bonds are retired. Toll proceeds are viewed as just that – revenue to be used for other road projects or even non-road expenditures. In perpetuity, or a close approximation thereof like 50 or 75 years.

Texas state highway 190 was originally planned to be a freeway. Dubbed the President George Herbert Walker Bush Freeway, it opened as a turnpike. Quite a fitting tribute for someone who once said, “Read my lips, no new taxes,” before signing a huge tax increase into law. I do not anticipate being able to drive on that highway for free in my lifetime. At around 15 cents per mile, the toll costs more than many of us pay for the fuel to drive on it, at least until recently.

Another travesty is building a roadway with public tax money, then delaying its opening for several months to make it a toll road. Such is the case with state highway 121 in Denton County. There are no bonds to retire in the first place. Just the milking of the cash cow commuters.

Now, the widening of state highway 121 in Collin County from the Denton County line to McKinney has been approved as a toll facility. There was much bargaining between the Texas Department of Transportation and the governments of the county and cities over whether this project was to be tolled. The local governments finally relented when promised that they would receive a portion of the toll revenues for their road projects. A couple of weeks ago, the other shoe dropped. It was revealed that the Regional Transportation Council, part of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, is likely to use the toll proceeds for projects in the entire region, not just in Collin County. Collin County, you dance with the devil, you get burnt.

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