Lawmakers seek to privatize toll roads without protections for property owners or taxpayers
Statement by Melissa Cubria, Advocate, Texas Public Interest Research Group on Texas’ Private Toll Road Legislation Lawmakers seek to privatize toll roads without protections for property owners or taxpayers
“Rarely are efforts to undermine the popular will as clear as they have been this session, especially given the litany of irresponsible private toll road bills that have been filed in the House Transportation Committee and the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security. The public has protested privatized toll roads since Governor Perry first announced his plans to build the unpopular Trans Texas Corridor, causing transportation officials to claim the project was dead.
“Now, nearly a decade later, members of both committees are holding hearings this week to discuss more than 20 separate pieces of legislation that would advance private toll road deals, known as Comprehensive Development Agreements in Texas. Not a single piece of legislation being considered by legislators includes any meaningful safeguards to ensure that the taxpayers of Texas are protected from the countless long-term consequences associated with road privatization. Furthermore, none of the private toll road bills filed this session protects against private toll road companies seizing ordinary Texans’ land for economic development purposes.
“Private toll road contracts are fraught with problems and will ultimately provide a poor value for the state. Furthermore, the costs associated with expensive road privatization are eventually absorbed by taxpayers through the rising tolls they pay for generations, revenue which is not collected for public use. The Government Accountability Office stated tolls are more likely to increase on privately financed highways than on publicly financed ones. At a legislative hearing earlier this year, TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Saenz similarly acknowledged that it is cheaper to build toll roads with public money.
“This session proponents of privatization are taking advantage of Texas’ daunting $27 billion budget deficit while insisting lawmakers give TxDOT the authority to partner with private toll firms. Unfortunately, TxDOT’s funding challenges are old news. Lawmakers have long known that the troubled agency has profoundly unsound financial practices and thin reserves of cash on hand for much needed infrastructure improvements and upgrades. Similarly, lawmakers have had plenty of time to get it right. Filing the volume of private toll road legislation we have seen this year without a single safeguard or public protection is simply unacceptable.
“Texans deserve much better than this.”