Texax Counties In The Driver's Seat
State cedes power to get new toll roads built.
With Texas highways overcrowded, Governor Rick Perry proposed a plan as big as the state itself: a 4,000-mile grid of road, railway and utility corridors that would crisscross the state and connect up with the existing highway system.
Earlier this summer, the legislature put together a plan to pay for the Trans Texas Corridor System. Instead of relying on new gas taxes, the corridor's cost--$150 billion over the next 25 years--will be financed by a heavy reliance on toll roads and be managed locally through the use of fiscal and legal powers the legislature has approved for a new type of governmental entity, the regional mobility authority.
County governments will be able to create regional mobility authorities that can seize land, issue bonds and build toll roads. Counties--as opposed to the state transportation department or the federal highway agency--will address local transportation priorities while building much of the new corridors as toll roads.
"I think the era of the freeway is coming to an end," says Bob Tesch, the chairman of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, a consortium of two counties in the metro Austin area. "Instead of taxing someone on the far end of a region to get their money to build on the other end of the region, why not create a more fair way to pay for it, and that's a toll."
Tesch already has his first target: Highway 183A, a 12-mile bypass that will connect Austin with fast-growing Williamson County. Highway 183A has sat unbuilt on TxDOT's drawing board for 18 years. Tesch hopes to open the road as a tollway in less than four years' time.
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