AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just north of Airport Boulevard, on I-35, stands a large white billboard with “Traffic Sucks” emblazoned on it. A second will soon go up in downtown Austin.
The billboards are paid for by a 501c(4) group called Texans for Traffic Relief, a group pushing for the Tollpayer Protection Act in the Texas legislature.
The act, filed by Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, would require a countywide vote for a new toll project, require uniform toll billing across the state, and require the tolls to end once the road project is paid for.
“The truth is that the people are rightfully tired of business as usual when it comes to tolling in Texas,” said Krause. “Whether it’s not feeling like they have a voice in the process, notorious problems with toll billing, or no light at the end of the tunnel once a toll goes up, the status quo can no longer be maintained. And it shouldn’t be. It’s time for change.”
Texans for Traffic Relief hopes to sway state leaders — like Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick — who are skeptical of toll roads. In late 2017, the two announced they would not support any new toll roads in Texas.
Under the “Traffic Sucks” slogan on the billboard is “Fix35now.com“, the advocacy website the group set up to get Texans to contact their lawmaker.
David White, a spokesman for Texans for Traffic Relief, tells KXAN there is no major transportation plan moving in the legislature and toll roads could be a option for specific communities.
“We need something to happen and we’re tired of the gridlock at the legislature and they need to come up with a solution,” said White.
The group is a 501c(4), so their financial backers are not publicly available but the group says they’re filled with business and community leaders.
“It’s either raise taxes or toll when it’s in the best interest of taxpayers. Again, whether you support tolls or oppose tolls, we want to provide an option for people to have direct input,” said White.
The billboards are meant to start a discussion, he says. A discussion that so far — only a few, including Austin’s Senator Kirk Watson, have been pushing. Tuesday, Watson filed similar bills advocating for limited toll lanes or taking out debt to expand I-35.
“I refuse to do nothing just because it may not be the best politics in this building,” said Sen. Watson Tuesday.
If Texans for Traffic Relief and Sen. Kirk Watson want to talk about new solutions to traffic congestion, many others do not.
A request for comment to Governor Abbott’s and Lt. Governor Patrick’s office has not been returned. Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, had no comment on the toll proposal according to his office. Chair of the House Transportation Committee, Terry Canales, D-Edinberg, has not yet returned a request for comment. A spokeswoman for Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, tells KXAN he has not yet formed a position on the bill.
Lawmakers have until the end of May to pass new laws and finalize the budget.