Significantly increased highway construction costs and cars that use less gas are two contributing factors that called for an external audit of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to suggest implementing more toll roads throughout the state at a July 18 meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission.
Since both factors have affected the traditional means of paying for roads, more toll roads with higher fees have become the state’s best hope for keeping up with demand for new or improved roads, said consultant Peter Mills of Washington state-based Dye Management Group Inc.
"Right now, toll rates are set at the lowest possible level, just enough to capture the costs of the roads themselves," Mills said. "We believe they should be priced to reflect the value—including the time saved—they bring to the drivers who use them."
TxDOT suggested replacing the current gasoline tax (20 cents per gallon) with a fee based on miles traveled per vehicle. Mills told commissioners that the North Texas Tollway Authority, for example, typically has set rates at about 10 cents a mile. The toll roads are actually worth about 16 cents a mile to motorists who use them, so the tolls should be set at that level, he said.
The TxDOT audit recommendations are preliminary. The audits and recommendations will be finalized by the end of July.
TxDOT will be under scrutiny between now and the next regular session of the Texas Legislature in 2009. The Legislature reconvenes in January 2009 and will consider passage of the reauthorization bill or other new laws relating to TxDOT.