In a very controversial move, the Texas Department of Transportation is announced it will begin seizing the cars of motorists who have failed to pay tolls on the state's growing network of toll roads, essentially turning TxDOT into a taxpayer funded collection agency for the private companies which operate the toll roads, 1200 WOAI news reports.
David Glessner of TxDOT tells 1200 WOAI news that there are $27 million in unpaid tolls on the books, and if the people who racked up those tolls don't pay, the taxpayers will be on the hook.
"That's taxpayers dollars that is not being used for road operations, maintenance, and possible new construction," Glessner said.
But Terri Hall, the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom and a long time anti toll road activist, says the idea that taxpayer money is being used to allow TxDOT to become 'collection goons' for private companies is outrageous.
"I think it is yet another way that these private companies have found to get taxpayers to foot the bill for what should be their costs, getting motorists to pay the toll."
Under the Public Private Partnership agreements under which many toll roads and toll lanes are build, private companies, like San Antonio based Zachry American Infrastructure, build the roads under a fifty year agreement with the state which allows the private companies to collect the tolls. But if people don't pay the tolls, it is the taxpayers who have to make up the difference. And Hall says the PPP policy was clearly not thought through, because there is no way to collect tolls from out of state and out of country motorists who aren't subject to Texas penalties, like tickets and refusal to renew their car registration.
"Let's not forget that we also have to pay for any out of state and out of country drivers, because if they can't pay those tolls, then we the taxpayers have to pay the bill for that, too," she said.
That's why Glessner says the state is aggressively going after toll scofflaws.
"Some of them are into the thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars," he said. "It is not a small amount. It is not pocket change."
TxDOT has also begun releasing a list of the leading toll scofflaws, and some of them have come forward to begin paying the cash.
Hall says the 'desperation' that private toll road companies have to get their tolls collected is start evidence that the state's PPP policy and the toll road model will not work.
"TxDOT doesn't want to have to face the fact that you can't toll everything that moves," she said. "This is a failed policy."