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Straus: Expand 281 now, without tolls

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus called Monday for state and local transportation officials to expedite the expansion of Highway 281 in San Antonio — and to finance the project without tolls.

Speaking to the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, Straus (R-San Antonio) said the Legislature has made state transportation funding a priority in the last two legislative sessions. Because the state has provided additional support, the tolls that had earlier been planned for the project are no longer necessary, Straus said.

“There is no reason to keep delaying this expansion,” Speaker Straus said. “The expansion of 281 should move forward quickly, and it should move forward without tolls.”

Speaker Straus has been working with Representative Lyle Larson, Senator Donna Campbell and Commissioner Kevin Wolff to push transportation officials in Austin and San Antonio to abandon plans for tolls on 281. Speaker Straus hosted numerous meetings on the issue earlier this year.

“Toll roads aren’t going away entirely in this state, but there is less of a need for them today than there was a few yeas ago,” Straus said. “And there is not a need for them right now on Highway 281.”

Speaker Straus led the successful effort this year to end diversions of the gas tax, ensuring that all of the money in the State Highway Fund is used for transportation. For 80 years, the state has been allowed to divert some of that money to other programs. Ending those diversions will provide an additional $600 million per year for transportation.

The Legislature also approved a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution to provide a dedicated and consistent source for road funding. If approved by voters in November, the amendment will dedicate at least $2.5 billion in state sales tax revenue for improving transportation.

In 2013, the Legislature approved a proposal to use some of the revenue from oil and gas taxes for transportation. That revenue was previously going into the state’s Rainy Day Fund. Even without that money, the Rainy Day Fund is projected to reach historically high levels at the end of the next budget cycle.

Speaking of the Legislature’s commitment to transportation funding, San Antonio Mobility Coalition Chairman Don Durden said, “We’ve made more progress in the last two sessions than we had in the previous 10 sessions combined.”