Texas officials cut toll projects from transportation plan
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas transportation officials are removing all new tollway projects from a significant 10-year construction plan, including what would have been additional toll lanes on Interstate 35 through Central Texas.
The Texas Transportation Commission unanimously voted Thursday to scrap all tolled projects from its $70 billion Unified Transportation Program. The decision came despite pleas of nearly a dozen political, civic and business leaders in Central Texas to keep the I-35 express lanes in the plan.
“A vote today to exclude I-35 from the (plan) is a mistake that will take Texas into a future of worsening gridlock,” said Sen. Kirk Watson, who represents the Austin area.
The commission this fall had been moving toward adding up to 15 toll projects to that long-term plan. The commission argued that some large urban projects would not be possible without charging tolls and selling bonds, despite at least $4 billion in tax money going to the state Department of Transportation each year under constitutional amendments approved in 2014 and 2015.
But the commission had received pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who were responding to conservative, anti-toll activists. They argued that Texas voters assumed there would be no new toll projects following the passage of the two amendments, which state that the influx of money couldn’t go toward toll projects.
“No one likes paying tolls. At the same time, no one likes being stuck in traffic,” Austin Mayor Steve Adler said. “It is real clear that in Central Texas and in Austin, our priority in that choice would be to go and fix I-35.”