Sunday, July 29, 2012

Still No Free Tolls for Disabled Veterans

There are still no free tolls for disabled veterans, despite a 2009 law that the Texas legislature passed permitting toll road authorities to allow disabled veterans to use their roads for free.  The Statesman reports that only Harris county has provided free tolls for veterans.

The legislators who sponsored the 2009 bill saw it as a way to lighten the burden on vets, who could use the toll roads to get to appointments at VA hospitals in Temple and Austin, and to thank them for their service.  The bill only permitted individual toll authorities to provide exemptions and discounts, but did not reimburse the authorities for the cost nor require them.

Houston decided to provide veterans with free tolls after one meeting with veterans advocates.  They see it is an important advantage to veterans and say that it has only cost them $6 million over the last 3 years, which isn't even one percent of the $1 billion in tolls it collected over the same period.  They also think the number is slightly skewed because many veterans would not have used the toll roads if they weren't able to use them for free.

Other toll authorities, such as the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, are concerned that providing discounts to veterans would significantly reduce their income, open the door to other groups asking for discounts, and cause problems with their bond authorities.  They feel that if the legislature really wants to see the discounts put in place, they will fund them.  Advocates for the discounts say the toll authorities are overestimating the number of trips veterans will make on the toll roads and that veterans are a special class provided with many benefits so there is no reason to believe other groups will piggyback on this request.  They also say that contracts with bondholders can be renegotiated to put discounts in place.

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