Texas Sen. Kirk Watson responded after Gov. Greg Abbott called on Texas Department of Transportation to not build more toll roads.
Just two months ago, the Texas Department of Transportation officials, along with Senator Kirk Watson, revealed plans to potentially expand Interstate 35 from Williamson County to Hays County. The plan includes adding two managed toll lanes in each direction.
"I think TxDOT is doing a great job to build more roads and unclog our congestion,” Abbott said on Friday. “Obviously, we want them to do that in a way as I promised and that is without adding more toll roads, and I think they have the resources to be able to do that."
Here was Watson's response:
It should surprise no one in the Texas Capitol that the money approved by voters in recent years was far too little to provide Texans true relief on our most congested roadways. All told, the additional money provided to TxDOT amounts to less than $4 billion this year, which is well below the $5 billion TxDOT said in 2010 was needed to maintain — not reduce — traffic congestion. And actually reducing congestion would cost even more.
Unless our leaders are willing to find the new money needed to invest in transportation infrastructure, all they are offering Texans is lip service. Talk is cheap. Roads are not.
I’ve been assured by Gov. Abbott’s office and state transportation leaders that the overhaul of I-35 through Austin remains a top priority. TxDOT is reviewing its options for the project. But we've been doing that for some time, and we know the options for real relief are very limited.
We cannot and should not squander a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unclog I-35, which is one of the most congested roadways in Texas. Talk doesn't unclog roads. It takes money and more money than the state currently has available if we're going to meet our real, honest needs. It also takes being smart in how that money is spent so that we can have things like transit and not just add congested lanes.
I’ll continue working to solve this problem. We can't let this road, which is ridiculous, continue as it is. Texans deserve better.
On the same day, Texans for Traffic Relief announced it's formation.
David White is the spokesman and he said the group's goal is to educate drivers about transportation challenges and about private investment into roadways.
"Whether that be a managed lane, or a tollway, again we don't want to limit anything because we are in such a dire strait moving forward because of the success of our state and the population growth, we feel we need all available tools on the table ... I don't think anyone wants to toll the whole state to where there's no free roads so for instance our organization is against tolling existing right of ways," White said.
"I think it's a little bad their part," said Terri Hall, the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom or TURF, a non profit formed in 1997 that fights toll roads.
She said she has defeated groups such as White's before.
"We're always up against these special interest groups who are going to profit from these expensive massive projects," Hall said.
At the end of October, TxDOT came out with it's $8.1 billion vision for expanding I-35 from Round Rock to Buda.
It would have included toll lanes.
But on Friday, Gov. Abbott changed that.
"We were absolutely elated. This is what the grassroots groups has been asking the Governor to do," Hall said about Abbott's announcement.
Hall also said that same announcement may have likely halted any talks of toll lanes as part of the U.S. 183 expansion.
"The governor stepped in and said you're not going to do that," Hall said.