Bill seeks to provide greater transparency from Texas toll road entities

Texas

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the deadline for bills to receive a second reading in the Texas House of Representatives draws nearer, state lawmakers are focusing on getting their priority pieces of legislation out of committee. Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, did that this week by honing in on toll roads and transparency. 

“Property taxes are but one component of the overall cost of government for Texans. This is especially true for those of us in North Texas, and in Houston, and the Austin areas where there are large concentrations of toll roads,” Rep. Patterson said while introducing House Bill 803 to the committee on transportation. “In my area, toll roads are not one of the transportation choices for commuters. They are often the only choice to get to and from work.” 

In Patterson’s district, there are three separate tolled roads. The Republican lawmaker says his bill is about transparency. 

“Drivers have a right to access basic financial information about tolling entities they fund and the toll projects they drive on everyday. However, while the tolling entities may report data in lengthy and sometimes indigestible annual reports, it remains inaccessible to the average citizen,” Patterson said. 

HB 803 outlines financial reporting requirements for all toll entities that should be published online. The bill would require each entity to publish financial data on the entity’s website, including: 

  1. the final maturity of all bonds issued by the entity for a toll project or system;
  2. toll revenue for each toll project for the previous fiscal year;
  3. an accounting of total revenue collected and expenses incurred by the entity for the previous fiscal year, such as debt service, maintenance and operation costs, any other miscellaneous expenses, and any surplus revenue; and
  4. a capital improvement plan with proposed or expected capital expenditures over a period determined by the entity.

“It’s about shining a light on the activities of our tolling entities and giving the public easier access to the information they need to hold them accountable,” Patterson added. 

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, or CTRMA, supports the legislation. They say they’re already doing what the bill would require on their website. 

“I’ve looked over the list of indicators that he has in the bill and those are, in almost all cases, posted on our website so that people can see them on a daily basis,” explained Mike Heiligenstein, the executive director at CTRMA. “It’s something that we’ve been doing for a while and we think it’s very appropriate for the public to know where their money’s being spent.” 

Heiligenstein says he thinks all toll agencies should provide such information on their websites — not just those in Texas, but across the nation. 

“It doesn’t do any good to have all these reports that are cited in that bill buried somewhere in a file. So, those are the public’s reports and they’re online for people to see,” he added. 

When we contacted the North Texas Tollway Authority for their stance on the proposed legislation, and were emailed this statement in response: 

“Rep. Patterson reached out to us, asking what info we make available to the public and how we could make it more centralized, ensuring the public has quick access to our finances. NTTA is committed to transparency, as evidenced by our two Texas Comptroller ‘Transparency Stars.’ You can find detailed information at NTTA.org.” 

The Harris County Toll Road Authority, HCTRA, also responded to our requests for information pertaining to the bill. In an email, representatives wrote: 

“Transparency is of paramount importance to Harris County and its constituents.  Regarding financial reporting outlined in HB 803, HCTRA will follow the requirements established by the legislature. Our agency has provided that feedback to Rep. Patterson.” 

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