Reporting Brian New
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - State lawmakers were hoping to help disabled veterans with a plan to let them drive toll roads for free. However, since the 2009 bill passed allowing for disabled veterans to be exempted for toll fees, nearly half of the state’s toll roads still charge.
The North Texas Tollway Authority considered not charging disabled veterans when the bill passed four years ago, but ultimately decided against it. “We certainly appreciate everything veterans have done for us — the selflessness they have displayed — but it’s an issue for us of replacing that revenue,” said NTTA spokesperson Michael Rey.
The NTTA estimates there to be 16,000 disabled veteran drivers in Texas, and allowing them to drive for free could cost the toll agency between $3 million and $8 million a year. On the high end, that’s around 2 percent of the NTTA’s toll revenue. The money goes to pay off bonds, and towards future road construction projects. Rey said, “I think it’s a fair discussion to ask where the money would come from.”
“We are not asking for a handout,” said disabled veteran Olga Wuerz of Dallas. “But I will tell you, it sure feels good to know that people actually realize that it’s not that easy (being a disabled veteran).”
“We are just asking for help,” said fellow disabled veteran Tom Bouressa. The Vietnam veteran shattered his back during the war, and for years had a hard time landing a job. “I was basically almost on the streets,” he recalled. Bournessa said that he is now back on his feet, but added that having a toll fee forgiven can make a big difference for a struggling veteran.
State Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) authored the original bill in 2009. He said that he is disappointed that some toll agencies have decided not to exempt disabled veterans. Herrero is also the author of a new bill that would change the wording of the law from “may” to “shall,” thus requiring toll agencies to give disabled veterans a free ride.
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