As many of you know I am against tolling the Grand Parkway. There has been some action on this issue here in Fort Bend County and statewide.
Senate Bill 792 states that market valuation means a project valuation that is based on agreed project terms and conditions, including initial toll rate and toll rate escalation methods. It takes account of the project traffic and revenue study, using agreed upon assumptions, an agreed project scope, market research, estimated costs of project finance, construction, operation and maintenance. SB 792 also allows the market valuation agreement to be waived.
In other words a market valuation is a financial-type appraisal that establishes the net monetary value of a toll project based on its expected revenues (from tolls and other sources) and its costs (financing, construction, and O&M) over the time frame established by the term of the agreement. Its an important tool to check the financial viability of toll projects.
The objective of the Market Valuation appears to be the quantification of the economic potential of a toll project. The way I read the statute, the market valuation study is the line of defense for common sense in funding these toll projects. It this requirement is waived, the Grand Parkway can be built as a tollroad whether it makes economic sense or not.
Texas stands to receive $2.25 billion in transportation funding from Washington, D.C. This funding is critical to maintain and upgrade our transportation infrastructure in Texas. It is also critical to stimulate the Texas economy. It will create jobs starting with the engineers who design these roads to the construction crews who build them.
The Texas Transportation Commission (TxDoT), appointed by Gov. Perry, has recommended that the East Region; including Beaumont, Bryan, Houston and Lufkin receive $431,516,770 for transportation projects. From this amount over 53%, or $231,000,000, will be spent on the construction of toll roads. These recommendations ignore the federal law that requires these funds to be spent in economically distressed areas and ignore the will of ordinary Texans who are opposed to our tax dollars being spent on Toll Roads and see these schemes as a type of double taxation.
Fort Bend has consistently been one of the fastest growing counties in the country for the last ten years. As a County Commissioner in Fort Bend County, I am on the front lines of mobility issues on a daily basis. Many of my constituents have a deep distrust of government and these actions by TxDoT only confirm that distrust. Since TxDoT’s recent recommendations I have been asked, ‘how is it that tax dollars will be spent on a road that will also be tolled’ and ‘aren’t roads that are paid for with tax dollars usually free?’ These are valid questions that Gov. Perry should be required to explain.
Unfortunately, Gov. Perry has taken the position that toll roads are the preferred method of financing our public roads in Texas. And many of our current mobility projects have been designed according to this policy. Tolling the Grand Parkway is a prime example of the shortsightedness of TxDoT and our regional planners. Powerful interest with goals other than mobility have been pushing this “outer-loop” for over 30 years and ignoring the other long-term mobility needs of the area. As a result, Segment E is one of the few “shovel-ready” projects in the Houston-Galveston area.
Now this shortsightedness is finally bearing fruit. If Segment E is funded from the stimulus money and finally constructed, exorbitant tolls from this segment will be used to finance and construct the remaining segments in Liberty, Montgomery, Brazoria, Chambers, and Galveston Counties. That means the citizens of Fort Bend County and North-west Harris County will be paying for those segments even though they never drive on them. From a mobility standpoint many of these remaining segments are useless. Miles and miles of the remaining pieces will cross open prairie where no one lives, will have little or no effect on traffic and are not needed. When our transportation dollars from Washington D.C. are desperately needed to get people to and from our population centers, it only seems reasonable that the federal stimulus money should be spent on actual mobility projects.
A solution to this ridiculous dilemma is for Gov. Perry to show some courage and demand that the legislature index the gasoline tax to inflation. After all, the gasoline tax is one of the fairer taxes, ‘the more you drive, the more you pay.’ Of course, if the Legislature decides to pass this tax, it must also insure that all of the tax revenue raised from gasoline taxes will be spent on roads. It can no longer be raided for other needs of the State. Gov. Perry should take a leadership role in making sure this happens. It will take courage, but it is the right thing for Texas.
In the mean time I will continue my crusade against tolling the Grand Parkway. There will be more opportunities in the future to kill this project. I thank you for your help.