Possible Toll 49 financing option draws criticism

Possible Toll 49 financing option draws criticism

A bill sitting on Governor Rick Perry's Desk could put Loop 49's expansion toward Longview on the fast track. But some conservative groups don't like the plan for where to get the money.

It's taken decades to be able to drive from Whitehouse to I-20 without stopping. That's because tax dollars are in short supply and it's been done piece by piece.

Lawmakers in Austin passed Senate Bill 1730 during the 2013 regular session. It says the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority, among others, can go to private companies, give them the space, and let them pay to build segment six and segment seven to Longview along with segment four to Lindale.

In return those companies get to collect tolls every time a car gets on one of those sections.

"It enables projects to get developed much more quickly because you're using private sector money rather than having to wait on public sector funds to become available and it transfers the risk of the project to the private sector instead of being born by the public sector." attorney for NetRMA Brian Cassidy said.

Grassroots America We the People is joining other organizations from around the state in trying to convince the governor to veto the bill. The group is worried about provisions for allowing tax dollars to be used to guarantee a certain amount of toll revenue to those companies.

"[We view] this as a prime example of corporate welfare," Grassroots Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said. "This is how state politicians can keep saying they haven't raised taxes – they put together financing schemes with borrowed private capital and put taxpayers on the hook to retire the debt."

NetRMA still believes that Senate Bill 1730 will become law.

Grassroots America is also upset about potentially loose caps on how much companies can charge on private toll roads.

Cassidy said NetRMA will be able to nail down those rates in a contract. The authority hoping to start negotiations in September.


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