Monday, March 2, 2009

TxDOT to misuse stimulus funds on toll roads

Houston Chronicle by ROSANNA RUIZ

$700 million eyed for toll projectsGrand Parkway's among 21 Texas roadways where money will be spent

Texas Department of Transportation has set aside more than $700 million in economic stimulus funds for toll road projects across the state, sparking criticism and questions about whether the pay-to-drive roads are an appropriate use of the federal dollars.

“It’s a total rip-off,” said Terri Hall, director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a nonprofit opposed to toll roads. “That’s not how the money is supposed to be used.”

The discussion should be on reducing gridlock now, said Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, whose criticism led the commission to postpone its vote. Toll roads should be built later with state money, not onetime federal stimulus funds, he said. “The Legislature continues to vote for toll moratoriums,” he said, “and TxDOT keeps ignoring us.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also questioned the use of stimulus funds on toll roads. “It concerns me that state officials would prioritize toll projects that will hit already hard-pressed Texas drivers with additional fees,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “I would like to see stimulus dollars fund projects that ease not only congestion, but an over-taxed public as well.”

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