Toll Road referendum: My presentation to the Commissioner's Court today

Travis County Commissioners are working on a plan, in executive session today, to allow citizens to vote on a non-binding referendum on toll roads.

But the devil is in the details, and based on a misleading article written by Commissioner Gerald Daugherty in the Oak Hill Gazette and West Lake Picayune this week, I believe there is a plan to rig the ballot language.

The article from Commissioner Daugherty caused me attend the Travis County Commissioners Court this morning and speak up about the importance of fair language and about the experiment of privatizing and tolling our public highways. The following was used for my presentation today and placed in the public record:


In this weeks Oak Hill Gazette, Mr. Daugherty claims that examples of our Austin toll roads (phase 2 tolls) can be found all over the U.S.

That statement is more than misleading.

Even though over 5,000 miles of traditional toll roads have been built in the United States, Freeways have never been shifted to toll ways in the history of our country, except once in California with US 91, and it failed, and it cost the taxpayers even more.

Traditional toll roads are designed and built as whole new routes or highways.
Austin's Freeway Tolls privatize and toll gas tax funded right of way and construction of our public highways.

Traditional toll roads are primarily financed with investor dollars
Freeway Tolls are primarily financed with gas tax dollars.

Traditional toll roads are an ALTERNATIVE to our public expressways.
Austin's Freeway Tolls PERMANENTLY take public expressways away from drivers.

Traditional toll roads are promised to be free roads after the road is paid for.
Austin's Freeway Tolls will never be removed.

An unbiased Illinois study shows the average cost for the traditional toll road is 9 cents a mile.The CTRMA latest estimate for freeway tolls in Austin is 12 to 18 cents per mile. Yet, CTRMA documents show a cost of 44-64 cents per mile. The Comptroller's report found one toll at the rate of $1.00 a mile. The final toll tax rate will be determined by the unelected CTRMA.

Revenue from traditional toll roads pay for the road you are driving on.
Revenue from a freeway toll in Austin will go into a slush fund controlled by Williamson County and spent as far away as Williamson County.

For two years Travis County has been told, by the powers that be, that we must place toll booths on our freeways because there is no more money for free roads.

Yet, within the same two years, Williamson County has been given numerous free roads, through CAMPO, without toll booths.

• FM 1660 from CR 134 to CR 101
• IH-35/SH 29 Interchange turnaround structures
• US 79 from east city limits of Hutto to CR 402
• US 79 from east of Taylor to the Milam county line
• RM 2338 from FM 3405 to Ronald Reagan Boulevard and
• US 183 from San Gabriel River to SH 29.

100% of the tolls on existing freeways are placed in Travis County.
0% of Williamson County’s current freeway's will have tolls on them. Zero.

Even though Travis County has three times the population than Williamson County, and 100% of the freeway tolls, the majority of the toll authority board is made up of Williamson County people. Four of the seven are from Williamson County. The executive director Mike Heiligenstein as also from Williamson County. The enabling legislation was created by Williamson County's Mike Krusee.

Before he was executive director, Mike Heiligenstein was a Williamson County Commissioner who focused on getting more freeways built for Williamson County. Heiligenstein voted to create the toll authority. Heiligenstein also named and voted for the Williamson folks who he wanted as toll authority board members. Those board members Heiligenstein selected - later thanked Heiligenstein by hiring him for the $130,000 a year plus perks executive director position.

The Comptroller's report found these same board members giving No Bid “gas tax dollar” contracts to themselves and their friends. In 2005 the Comptroller demanded that chairman Robert Tesch and board member Johanna Zmud resign because of conflicts of interests. A year has passed and the two board members continue to refused to resign. The Comptroller's in-depth investigative report calls the toll plan “Double Taxation without Accountability”.

Records show, Mike Heiligenstein was divorced by his wife Anne in 2004, and she filed papers in Williamson County to garnish Heiligenstein's toll authority (CTRMA) wages for child support. If Heiligenstein can't be trusted to give money to his own kid's, he'll have no problem funneling Travis toll tax dollars for free roads in Williamson County.

Since the Austin freeway toll roads are already paid for, the toll revenue collected will go into a slush fund the Williamson County toll authority controls. Revenue collected in Travis County will be controlled and spent by those in Williamson County.

What are some common sense and fair solutions?

1) Use our gas tax dollars to finish building the roads we've already paid for, and open them up as freeways NOT tollways. Tolling roads we've already paid for with gas tax dollars is highway robbery. Permanently taking and tolling our already funded public expressways is immoral. Sending Austin's toll revenue to Williamson County is more than obscene.

2) Texas has more sprawl than any other state in the country. Zone for denser development in urban and suburban areas so people don't have to drive as far for needs.

3) Focus on building more arterial road lane miles and less highway lane miles. Phoenix, AZ produces more arterial lane miles that cost 90% less than highway lane miles.

4) Just like our families learn to live within a budget, TxDOT needs to get a hold of it's expenditures. And, we need to get rid of the TxDOT good old boy network that causes our roads to cost much more than other states. The General Accounting Office report of state highway construction shows the median cost of a road lane mile in the US to be $1.6 million per lane mile. A look at 130 east of Austin shows it costs a whopping $7.6 million per lane mile.

5) Some states realized that the smartest way to stop the political blame game of considering to raise the gas tax every two or four years (to keep up with inflation) is to index our gas tax. Texas needs to index the gas tax.

6) Stop Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs). CDA's are road and land development contracts that hand over our tax dollars, our public highways, our right of way, and our private property to private corporations for profit. These NO BID, Secret, Corporate Welfare contracts must be stopped.

7) Remove special interest politicians who ignored 93% of the public feedback and vote to toll roads we've already paid for.

Gerald Daugherty says tolling roads we've already paid for is the only way to get revenue for new roads. Yet, the legislature has the opportunity every two years to increase or index our gas tax. Tolling our freeways is a permanent solution.

No other city is shifting most of it's public highways to tollways. There are currently two other public highways in the whole state TxDOT has plans to privatize and toll. 121 in North Dallas and the city of Frisco has opposed it. And HWY 281 in San Antonio, which was stopped by a lawsuit.

There are no economic impact studies to show how this experiment of privatizing and tolling our public highways will effect our Travis County economy, as the additional costs of moving all goods and services will be passed down to Travis County taxpayers.

If this weeks article in the Gazzette, is anything like what Gerald Daugherty sees as a "true public information" campaign about Austin's Robin Hood tolls, we are in big trouble.

That is why it is crucial that the ballot language for the voters be truthful about the experiment of privatizing and tolling Austin's public highways (phase 2 tolls).


Anonymous said...

Bravo to Sal Costello !

When I read that article yesterday in the Oak Hill Gazette, I again became infuriated. Daugherty wrote a similar one two weeks previous.

In my opinion, he is just serving up crafted lies.

The whole premise of his articles is that we are out of money, there is a financial crisis, and there is not other way to fund the needed road improvements. That is a big lie.

Governor Perry and his HB 3588 gang moved our TxDot money around in all sorts of unethical (but apparently legal) ways in 2002 and 2003. That is how all of a sudden they came around selling on us, all of a sudden, on our big "financial crisis."

We have more than paid for the road changes needed at the Y in Oak Hill, and the people in this (my) area have been tooled around for about 10 years waiting for the much needed changes.

This whole NAFTA corridor / toll road scam was conceived and born in utter corruption. I will not dialog within this big crafted deception.

Daugherty, if you have any honor and integrity left, do us all a big favor and resign from office immediately.

Sal Costello said...



Enjoyed the blog today, one of the more comprehensive, yet concise pieces written.