Through a perverse tolling scheme enabled by state legislators, Denton and Collin County commuters using the Sam Rayburn Tollway are paying a regional tax disguised as a “toll.” That’s because the North Texas Toll Authority (NTTA) paid the regional government $3.2 billion to build the road—which will be repaid by tolls—so they could finance projects unrelated to the tollroad.

The regional government (aka North Central Texas Council of Governments [COG], Regional Transportation Council) controls all federal, state, and local transportation funding in North Texas, and has a voting body of forty-four members.

Since the COG does not have any taxing power of its own, the entity used the Sam Rayburn Project as a means to raise revenue—not to simply repay the cost of the 26-mile highway—but to fund other, unrelated projects including roads, rail, pedestrian bridges, and bike paths.

Commuters paying “tolls” over the next fifty plus years are none the wiser.

Local officials love the hidden toll tax because they can finance local projects using the RTC’s $3.2 billion slush fund without having to spend money out of their own budgets.

As reported by Collin County Judge Keith Self on his blog, the COG recently voted to waste $1 million on a sustainability program for trees. Again, these are funds that were given to the region for “transportation.” Funds that are repaid by toll-paying commuters driving on Sam Rayburn.

We’ve previously reported on how the regional governmental system is a complex, redundant, and wasteful enterprise designed to take control away from locally elected officials, and aggregate power in an unelected body that’s wholly unaccountable to taxpayers.

Even worse, a federally appointed bureaucrat—Michael Morris—heads the RTC.

It’s likely commuters who pay hundreds of dollars per year driving on Sam Rayburn don’t want their money spent on trees. But as long as the Texas Legislature lets the regional governing system keep its policy-making authority, expect more taxes and tolls to be diverted to wasteful, non-road projects.

Toll revenue should only be used to repay a road’s construction cost. After that, the toll should be removed. Furthermore, state and unrestricted federal highway funds should only be used on road projects that ease traffic congestion—not toll road cronyism, passenger trains, parks, beautification, bike paths, local pork, and other waste.

In order for that to happen, the legislature needs to return power and accountability to locally elected officials.