As some of the Texans around here know, several localities in Texas have started turning roads, that were paid for with tax dollars, into toll roads. The ammounts to double taxation. I pay my fair share of the gasoline taxes in this state and so does everyone else.
Now I'm not against toll roads per say. They are a great idea. The North Dallas Tollway and George Bush Parkway are outstanding highways and worth the toll. But to take highway 121 (which has been paid for with our Tax dollars) and turn it into a toll road is simply wrong.
Step in one Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Right now the highway bill H.R. 3 is making its way through the Senate. Senator Hutchison has inserted this amendment:
In commitee, Senator Hutchison said:
Mrs. HUTCHISON. Mr. President, this is an amendment that is going to try to take away the right of States to put tolls on interstate highways that have already been paid for and built by the taxpayers of our country. Recently, there has been a renewed interest in expanding opportunities to toll our Nation's interstate highway system. The interstate system was conceived and built with Federal tax dollars, so tolling interstates amounts to double taxation.
Today, I, along with Senators NELSON of Nebraska, SHELBY, BURNS, AND PRYOR, offer an amendment which simply repeals a provision from the previous highway bill, TEA-21, the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, which is known as the interstate tolling program, which is fundamentally unfair to taxpayers.
I have said if local communities and States want to come together and build a toll road, they should be able to do it. In these situations, the taxpayers know what they are getting into. Many times a vote is required to issue bonds, but at any rate the taxpayers can hold the elected officials accountable. To allow unelected transportation officials to simply install a toll booth on facilities already paid for by Federal tax dollars is unacceptable.
Tolling existing highways will also increase the number of drivers on the free roads, resulting in greater congestion and more accidents. Studies show that drivers will choose to bypass the tolls by driving on local, small roads. We also know that tolls on existing interstates will produce substantial diversion of truck traffic to other roads, and our rural roads are not equipped to handle significant truck traffic.
In Ohio, traffic tripled on US-20 after toll increases on the Ohio Turnpike. Unfortunately, fatal accidents on US-20 are now 17 times more common than those on the turnpike. In response, Ohio's Department of Transportation decided to lower the tolls, even though the action did reduce the revenues for the State.
A recent study predicted that a 25-cent-per-mile toll on an interstate would cause nearly half the trucks to divert to other routes. This is an understandable economic decision for trucking companies considering that truckers' profit margins average 2 to 4 cents per mile and the rising price of gasoline has already affected profitability. Technology already exists to help truckers and other drivers evade tolls in a cost-effective manner. It does not make sense to invest in tolls that people will not pay.
Tolling interstates would reduce the safety of nearby local roads, degrade the quality of life in neighboring areas, and hurt the economy. Eighty percent of the Nation's goods travel by truck, and they will travel more slowly and expensively if tolls are imposed on interstates.
The Federal Government collects taxes to fund the Federal interstate highway system. The States should not have the right to come in and impose another tax via a toll. The idea of tolling Texas highways is more concerning to me because the Federal highway program has treated my home State pretty poorly. Texas is the single largest donor State over the program's 50 years of history. We have the most highway miles of any State and our drivers have contributed billions to other States to enable them to build their portion of the Federal highway network.
In this bill, we will get a 91-cent return. It is better than the previous 5 years, but I am going to continue to work for parity. I have always defended States rights, but the flexibility to toll interstates has a clear effect on interstate commerce and fundamental fairness. If Arkansas, for example, decided to toll I-40, all deliveries coming into or out of Texas on I-40 would be subject to that toll. In effect, Texas businesses and citizens would be taxed for using that highway. As a donor State, our taxes have already helped to finance it. So it is clear from the studies that tolling an interstate will shift traffic to other roads and potentially to other States.
These States would not share in the toll revenue but would bear the brunt of the costs for more accidents on their roads, more traffic, pollution, and added highway maintenance and expansion costs. I cannot support a program which could shift new traffic and related burdens to our State and others.
The underlying SAFETEA bill establishes a commission to explore alternative sources of transportation revenue. The commission should be allowed to complete its work before we start experimenting with tolls or any other alternative.
At the request of Senator Warner, we have modified the amendment to limit the interstate tolling program to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The senior Senator from Virginia and the State's congressional delegation have been working with Virginia's Department of Transportation for more than 3 years on the I-81 project. Virginia is the only State with an active application pending before the U.S. Department of Transportation. While I disagree with implementing this program, I am willing to defer to Senator Warner on the need to allow Virginia to finish its application and have therefore agreed to this modification.
I am going to defer to the Senator from Nebraska, who is one of the cosponsors of the bill. I hope we will be able to pass this amendment. It is very important that the taxpayers of America know they are going to have the opportunity to use this interstate system their tax dollars for 50 years have gone to build.
The purpose of having an interstate system was so we would have seamless transportation into all of our States and it is very important we keep those highways that have already been built free highways for the citizens who have already paid for them. I urge the support of my colleagues.
This has been inserted as amendment S.AMDT 617 to H.R.3. You can read more here:
I don't know about the rest of you Texans, but Hutchison just went to the top of my list to be our next Govenor.