[Thu, Dec. 14, 2006: Feels good to be vindicated by an 'official' source. See: No Need for Tolls, Texas A&M Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Report --MJ]
To toll or not to toll? Is that even the right question? It's certainly the question of the day, but what got us to the point of even asking it? What I've heard most as to why the CAMPO board voted "yes" to tolls is, "We would losing federal funding."
So, dear elected representatives: Where was the representation that let it get to that point? Why? Why did you let it get to the point you had to vote yes to something 90+% of your constituents clearly don't want?
Ignoring that the Austin Toll Plan (and Trans-Texas Toll Corridor) are both alleged unethical money skimming activities for well placed friends of those in political power, on average toll systems build roads with only 75 to 85 cents of every dollar collected. The current gas tax system builds roads with 95 to 97 cents of every dollar.
Do you see a need for our society to throw away somewhere between 10 and 22 cents of every road building dollar collected?
Please vote against any candidate who accepts toll roads in any form for any reason.
Let's look at the money then, since it's claimed "funding" is what caused you to vote against the wishes of the citizens:
- The 20 cent per gallon Texas gas tax hasn't changed, so where is that money now going?
- The 18.4 cent per gallon federal gas tax hasn't changed, so where is that money now going?
- The number of cars register has increased, where is that extra money going?
- City of Austin utility bill includes almost $10 for road-related items, where is that money going?
It boils down to this: The tax revenue from vehicles has increased as more vehicles exist and these vehicles consume more fuel. So if our taxes have kept up with inflation and population growth, as seems to be the case, where has the money gone?
Okay, I'm guessing that question is a little too nebulous for you to answer. So, lets visit some numbers, and then maybe ask it again.
- Money collected from the Texas gas tax (1):
- Money collected from the federal gas tax (2):
- Money collected for vehicle registration (3):
- Money collected from Austin Energy (4):
- Money collected for CapMetro:
- Cost per person for the Toll Plan (5):
(w/ interest $10,450)
That's revenue in the $250 million per year range! (almost $400 million including CapMetro) And that isn't enough to build and maintain roads? Let's get this straight: $250 million a year isn't enough, and you think that using an additional $4.5 billion of your constituents funds is a good idea.
In simple English, each man, woman, child, and infant will need to cough up, $5,000 (!) just so the drivers in the region have the privilege of being able to pay a toll so they can drive on a road they've already paid for.
Dear fellow citizens of the Austin regional area, I smell duplicity and I smell a hell of a lot of it!
Let's follow the smoke for a bit:
Smoking Gun 1: About nine months to a year ago, people I know started saying, "wow, TxDOT sure has started to crank on projects that have been dormant for years." The Mopac / William Cannon bridge, parts of Ben White / 71, and parts of 183 were the most obvious example, but they weren't the only ones, and road construction all around town seemed to be up. As a driver, I view this as both good and bad. Bad that my daily drive takes longer due to construction delays, but good, because it gives the glimmer of hope that at some point in (hopefully) the foreseeable future, my drive will be faster, safer, and more enjoyable.
Smoking Gun 2: Circle C voted almost 100 % against Will Wynn during the last Mayoral election. Is it a wonder that Wynn voted for a plan that not only includes, but also steals, a bridge that Circle C will have to use to get into town?
Smoking Gun 3: We citizens were given approximately 3 months to voice an opinion before the plan was voted on. Three months for the public to read, understand, and come to a learned decision? THREE MONTHS?! Within that time, approximately 6,500 people voiced their opinion. 93% of these people said resoundingly "no!" Currently I can't find figures on how many people either showed up at the meeting or expressed an opinion there.
Smoking Gun 4: TxDOT has the authority under House Bill No. 3588 to turn over any or all of these toll roads to a private entity. Toll roads have approximately a 20% overhead cost. What this means is 20% of the money collected is "wasted" to collect the tolls, pay management fees, and provide the toll road entity a profit margin.
Smoking Gun 5: TxDOT documents have been found (by Austin Toll Party) that show TxDOT guaranteeing bond investors that they will find ways to force people to use the toll roads. So, basically the whole, "you can use the feeder roads," is a sham. Sure, you can use them, but TxDOT is going to make it so painful and inconvenient that you will "gladly" pay the toll, thereby guaranteeing whoever is operating the toll road their profit.
Smoking Gun 6: There were no traffic or revenue studies to show viability.
Smoking Gun 7: So far State Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (Chair of CAMPO), State Representative Dawnna Dukes (CAMPO Board/voting member), County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner (CAMPO Board/voting member), and County Commissioner Bill Burnett (CAMPO Board/voting member) have been found to have financial gains for themselves or their family for voting "yes" to the toll plan.
So, it becomes perfectly clear why the public was only given three months and then completely ignored. The plan was going to be approved whether we liked it or not. There is no need to re-ask the question of where the current money has gone, because it hasn't gone anywhere. The tax money related to cars and roads is still coming in, it's just through our officials' revenge, greed, and power brokering, that we the people of Central Texas have been screwed. So here is what you, a citizen of Austin, can do about it.
What You Can Do
(Usually I write and publish these separately for our columnists, but since I'm writing this I'll just add it here.)
The single most relevant thing you can do is show your anger by recalling any official that voted for the plan. See Austin Toll Party, Step 2 to either, hopefully both, sign or collect signatures for the recall petition.
[From Austin Toll Party's website]
Recall Petition Meet up/Greet Up:
Meet-up location for tips, complete free recall package with "pro-clipboard", and available notary.
PET PAC Office, Every Saturday 10:00am - noon
Call 371-9926 for latest office hours
4533 Avenue A, Apartment 208
Austin, TX 78751
(South and back end of Apt. complex)
Places to Sign the Petition:
Anytime at Action Safe & Lock
101 E. North Loop Blvd.
Austin, TX 78751
(near Ave. F & 53rd)
Anytime at Margarita's Restaurant
14735 Bratton Lane
(in the Bratton Square Shopping Center)
Davenport Village, 3801 Capital of Texas Highway
Anytime at TexiCali Grill
534 E. Oltorf
(between Congress & I-35)
Capitol City Auto Parts
7900 S. Congress
Austin, TX 78745
Hello Friend, Family, or Neighbor,
Are you against the Toll Road plan? If so please visit this site to learn how to combat it.
[Insert Your Name]
Third, go slap a bumper sticker on your car.
Also, Austin Toll Party has a five step plan for items to do. As I've indicated above, Step 2 is the most important. They are under tremendous resource constraints and their site isn't as user friendly as it could be (well gee, they're busy, ya know). To that end here are all their steps and a brief descriptor:
Step One: Tell ALL Texas officials to STOP the double tax.
This sends an email to Perry and 100 other Texas officials that you are opposed to this behavior. Personally I think it's a great idea, as it not only indicates your displeasure, it makes them reallocate some of their resources into dealing with the public.
Step Two: Recall/Slow the Toll Plan.
Has detailed instructions on how to collect signatures, as well as the next public meeting they will hold, and how you can sign the petition.
Step Three: Develop a plan of our own.
Brief info on how they are going to develop several plans from public input and allow the citizens to vote on it.
Step Four: Work Together/Inform.
Email your friends form. Similar to ours, but with a 'canned' message. Obviously we would like you to use ours :) (but please, use one of them!)
Step Five: Donate
They are a non-profit and need money to do the things they are doing.
Well that's all for now, and I will update this page as I get more information. Please visit (and patronize) the establishments and go sign a petition.
(Oh, yeah, I have to add this legal doodah. Everything on this page is my opinion. All copyrights, trademarks, tradenames, etc. are property of their respective owners. The calculations are my best estimates given the available data. If the numbers are incorrect, send me a link to an official web published source and I will update them. I will not change the estimate of $4.5 billion as, in my opinion, this figure represents the closest estimate made available. And quite frankly it's probably low, I wouldn't be surprised if the final total hits $10 billion with cost overruns.)
- Gas used by an average vehicle: 15,000 miles per year / 20 mpg = 750 gal / year
- 656,562 Vehicles * 750 gal * $0.20 Texas gas tax = $ 101,390,100.
Approximately 1/4th of the Texas State gas tax goes to the Public School system. TxDOT Source. back to text
- 656,562 Vehicles * 750 gal * $0.184 Fed gas tax = $ 93,278,892. back to text
- 656,562 Vehicles * $65 per vehicle = $ 43,935,710. back to text
- 350,000 Customers * $10 = $ 3,500,000. 350,000 Customers seems inordinately low as Census data shows 320,766 households. The implication is there are only 30,000 other customers (business, charities, schools, governmental offices, and . . .) of Austin Energy? Then again Austin Energy is one regressive taxing entity, when you consider there is approximately $25 in "user fees," and the like, the customer must pay just to have an account. back to text
- $4.5 billion / 857,204 citizens = $5,249.63.
With interest ($4.5 billion @ 6% for 26.5 years) / 857,204 citizens = $10,495.77
back to text
26.5 years is the average of 23 to 30
These websites were the sources for reference/statistical information:
Other websites against tolls:
List of Texas Toll Projects (partial):
Trans-Texas Corridor (new I-35), Addison Airport Toll Tunnel, Dallas North Tollway, Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road, Hardy Toll Road, International Parkway, Loop 1 (MoPac Extension), Mountain Creek Lake Bridge, President George Bush Turnpike, Beltway 8 (Sam Houston Tollway), State Highway 45, State Highway 130, Westpark Tollway, toll road from State Highway 121 to US 75, pay-to-drive fast lanes along I-635, toll road loop in Bexar County
Companies trying for Texas Toll Projects (partial with country of origin if known):
ACS Infrastructure Development, Bluebonnet Infrastructure Investors, Cintra (Spanish), Cintra-Zachry (Spanish), MIG, Zachry American Infrastructure
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