Should voters approve any new Texas toll road? One group thinks so

KXAN - Phil Prazan
August 23, 2018

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Many Central Texans have pay to drive to and from work on toll roads because lawmakers have not been able to find the money to pay for free highways without raising taxes.

A new proposal from a Texas advocacy group could hold the keys to many road projects, including the overhaul of Interstate 35 in Austin. 

There was a plan to overhaul I-35 but it included toll lanes. Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick had some pretty strong statements against toll lanes and those plans were shelved. Now lawmakers have to decide what they want to do and how they're going to pay for it.

It was another busy day at the TxDOT office in North Austin.

"I definitely think there are some improvements that could be made, especially with the growth in Austin," said Chadwick Jones, who drives from Leander to downtown for work.

"There's a small group of people making a decision of how we're going to use our money or not going to use our money or how we're going to implement the highway system, I just think that they need more opinions," said Jones.

David White from Texans for Traffic Relief says under their proposal, the Toll Payer Protection Act, the voters would have to approve any new toll road.

"Let's move this debate to where it can have the most impact and the most direct input from the people. And again, putting something on the ballot and letting people vote on it is the most American thing that there is," said White.

He says the ballot box is the best way for voters to communicate with lawmakers on whether they're so sick of traffic they'll accept tolls or taxes to pay for roads. 

"So that their lawmakers know very clearly where the will of the people is on tolling," said White.

We reached out to Lt. Gov. Patrick and Gov. Abbott to get their comment on the proposal. They have not responded to my request.

Other parts of the proposal from Texans for Traffic Relief would remove a road's tolls after project costs are paid back. It would also ban tolling on existing lanes and cap late and administrative fees. 

Lawmakers return to the Capitol in January after the November elections.

Capping those late fees was an idea passed by lawmakers after a KXAN investigation.

We brought viewers' billing concerns straight to the top of TxDOT after hundreds of drivers reached out to us.

Senate Bill 3-12 required TxDOT-operated toll roads to cap administrative fines for nonpayment of tolls at $48 a year. But mobility authorities across the state say that cap doesn't apply to their toll roads.

PUBLIC BLUEPRINT