Skip to comments.Fallout over tolls divides local, state leaders
Posted on 04/16/2018 11:04:32 PM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
The political tide has turned against toll roads in Texas, imperiling a Tomball interchange project and hamstringing frustrated local officials, while setting an ominous tone for projects to come.
For years, state officials relied on tolls to tackle some of Texas biggest traffic messes as a way to build without adding taxes. Since 2016, however, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick have taken hard-line stances against the mixing of Texas Department of Transportation money and toll revenues. Most Popular
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Thats caught up with the plan for direct ramps from Texas 249 to the Grand Parkway, and it has drawn ire from Houston-area officials who think Austin politicians are taking their toll takedown too far.
We are bending to blackmail, Fort Bend County Commissioner James Patterson charged last month. Translator
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The continued sidelining of toll projects could drastically alter how many local projects are built, and how quickly relief from heavy congestion comes for drivers. With tolls, supporters say, many projects can be built years in advance. Without them, even with new state funding, work could wait years.
Much of the current divide stems from 2014 and 2015, when voters approved Propositions 7 and 1, respectively. The referendums combined add up to $4 billion annually to highway spending by the TxDOT.
Lawmakers also ended diversions of about $600 million annually in state fuel tax funds to other uses, such as law enforcement.
The money, funneled through the states transportation plans, can be used only to relieve congestion, perform maintenance or in specific cases lower the states debt related to highways. None of the money, about half the $70 billion Texas plans for roads over the next decade, can be used for transit or toll projects.
Abbott and others touted the increased spending as relief from pay lanes. Theyre now taking a strict view of the no-toll pledge, spiking projects that use tolls, including managed lanes in Austin and Dallas designed to encourage carpool use but available to solo drivers for a price.
Texas is spending record amounts on transportation, Patrick wrote to Texas Transportation Commission chairman Bruce Bugg in November. TxDOT's proposal to add managed toll lanes is simply not consistent with the policies set forth by the legislature.
Use of tolls is nothing new for Texas major urban areas, but their proliferation irritated some who felt TxDOTs plans simply made taxpayers give up their money in a different way.
Thats led to widespread aversion to toll projects, said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston.
There is a reason for it and we have to recognize the obvious, Bettencourt said. People feel they are paying for something, then asked to pay again.
So far, the hard line on tolls has affected only the Tomball-area project, whcih is not set for construction until fiscal 2019. Its inclusion in a list of local projects, however, held up local approvals for months.
The Houston-Galveston Area Councils Transportation Policy Council the regional group responsible for local transportation planning relented only last month and removed the project from its list.
We have essentially put it to the side for a moment, said Alan Clark, manager of transportation and air quality programs for the regional council.
Clark said not doing so would have put other projects, some of which are expected to start before the Grand Parkway and Texas 249 work, at risk.
As officials approved shelving the interchange ramps, Patterson lashed out at Patrick and others, arguing they were taking too strict an approach and interfering in projects that dont directly involve state funds. The Texas 249 work is being paid for by the Harris County Toll Road Authority and TxDOT, though the states share isnt from state funds. It comes from the Grand Parkway Transportation Corp., the entity building Houstons outer ring road.
We are calling it a TxDOT project when I do not believe it is a TxDOT project, Patterson said.
TxDOT officials in Houston, meanwhile, have carefully avoided some of the discussion in recent months, notably regarding the planned overhaul and redesign of Interstate 45 through downtown. The $7 billion freeway redo from Interstate 69 to the Sam Houston Tollway along I-45 includes so-called MaX Lanes that officials said allow for greater use of carpools and transit.
Plans for the freeway project initially labeled them as managed lanes, and left open the potential for a tolling component for solo drivers. Since mid-2017, officials have said no decision on tolling, or not tolling, has been made, citing the possibility of additional state funding from Propositions 1 or 7.
In Dallas and Austin, officials continue fighting for their projects, removed at Patricks urging from state plans. Leaders in Lake Highlands, a neighborhood in northeast Dallas, joined city officials in a plea to transportation commissioners to revive plans for managed lanes along Interstate 635.
The lanes would operate similarly to the Katy Managed Lanes along Interstate 10, which offer free use for carpools and charge solo drivers for a quicker trip.
There is a big difference between a toll road and an optional managed lane for congestion relief, Dallas resident Susan Morgan told commissioners last month. Related
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For Lake Highlands residents, the decision to hold up the project over tolls leaves them with nothing in terms of traffic relief.
Its a consideration that worries even some of the critics of toll roads, including state Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, who represents a sliver of Lake Highlands.
We have delayed this project long enough, Hall said.
A long list of projects are waiting for state money, and despite billions in additional investment over the next decade, it still isnt enough to address the most persistent problem spots.
Bugg, as a discussion exercise, asked TxDOT officials to analyze what could be accomplished by directing all the new congestion relief money $35.4 billion of the states $70.6 billion spending plan to the 100 most congested road segments in the state.
The reality is the worst spots in the state would gobble up all Texas transportation funding, according to the TxDOT analysis.
The top 100 list compiled annually by Texas A&M Transportation Institute is based on total delay times along the roadways. On the current list, 92 of the most congested segments are in five metro areas Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Fort Worth with 38 of those in the Houston area.
The five areas have all of the top 50 most congested roads, topped by some familiar stretches, such as Loop 610 in Uptown, Interstate 35 in downtown Austin and Interstate 69 from the Loop 610 to downtown Houston.
TxDOT estimated costs using current and future plans and programs. Tackling the top 25 most congested roads in the state which includes 12 in the Houston area would cost $27.7 billion, while the next 25 segments would cost $10.7 billion.
With many needs and still not enough revenues to promise everything to everyone, Bugg said transportation officials still face challenges, even with more to spend.
We are indifferent to the funding streams, he said. But not indifferent to our commitment to building roads.
If the toll is used to only pay for a road, without the social engineering aspects and the toll disappears after the road is paid for I have no issue.
I realize those three “If’s”is like saying “If I was Superman I could fly.”
Toll roads make sense on one condition—any politician who votes for any measure to use the funds for anything but road construction and ongoing maintenance must be executed on the House or Senate floor—immediately.
Ditto for any attempt to circumvent this by delegating the responsibility to a Board or Committee of any kind.
It took the better part of a decade and he failure of a metro Atlanta TSPLOST vote before the governor removed the tollbooths from GA400. The road was built with the promise that tolls would be removed when they paid for the road. The road had been paid for, for some time. Long enough to also create a more than adequate fund for perpetual maintenance, had anyone done such a thing.
I was glad it finally turned out like it did, that people had long enough memories to hold elected officials feet to the fire on the issue.
The first time I drove to PA on the really bad roll roads I thought.. who in the world trusted someone to do what they said. Paying for the same stretch of pavement daily is like bringing your empty milk jug back to the store and paying for another gallon.
I never dreamed the south would do stupidly embrace that concept.
They will never use your taxpayer dollar as they said, so stop trusting them to do so.
The tide turned with the TTC.
The corruption in that boondoggle poisoned the well for a long time to come.
Seems simple enough. Write off the top 25 problems and let folks find work-arounds. (I avoid 625 East, for example). There's enough money for the rest.
Unmentioned are the problems caused by poor design choices and TxDot induced congestion. For example, many of the lanes are designed so that the tires pound on the concrete seams instead of having the concrete panel widths match the lane width. This hastens the need for repairs, funneling money into the pockets of the contractors, but greatly increases congestion from those projects over the long run. Exit ramps too close to the cross streets back up traffic down onto the expressway. Lanes that end just past an exit instead of making the lane an 'exit only'.
The only question in my mind is whether the TxDot engineers are incompetent, or corrupt.
“If the toll is used to only pay for a road, without the social engineering aspects and the toll disappears after the road is paid for I have no issue...I realize those three Ifsis like saying If I was Superman I could fly.”
Correct. They’re used as piggy banks for the simple reason that highways are VERY CHEAP to build (on a per vehicle-mile basis) relative to their value to drivers. So, while, it may only cost 2 or 3 cents per vehicle-mile to build a highway, people who benefit from that highway will pay 10 to 20 cents per vehicle-mile (and much more if the road is a virtual monopoly through a congested area). And guess which of the two costs government chooses to charge their people?
So you have Pennsylvania sending something like $500M per year of toll money to subway systems in Phili and Pitt, rather than lowering toll rates, and no doubt just about every other expensive toll road doing similar, but doing a better job of keeping it out of public view.
Bottom line - once you give them an inch, they’ll take whatever they can get and pay off their ‘friends’ with it.
“The tide turned with the TTC.
The corruption in that boondoggle poisoned the well for a long time to come.”
Governor Perry was COMPLETELY CONTROLLED by toll road interests. If the media hadn’t been covering for him, I’m convinced he would have gone to jail (or at least some of his people). TTC, for others, stood for the “Trans-Texas Corridor”, and it was basically an overlay of private toll roads throughout Texas. Of course with our Interstates being freeways, it couldn’t work, so Perry’s henchmen took it to the ‘next level’ and worked on getting tolling imposed on our existing freeways. Needless to say, that left a bad taste in the mouths of most Texans - but then again, most Texans didn’t pay attention when this crap was being rammed through our rubber-stamp legislature.
Nice to see it dead, and then some, though!
and the toll disappears after the road is paid for I have no issue.
Thats always the rub.
“Thats always the rub.”
It happened on I-30 between Dallas and Ft Worth but that was years ago - 30 or 40 years ago.
The highway department wanted to maintain the toll but the voters and drivers refused to allow it
The Illinois Tollway Authority fed us the same line of bull 40 some years ago. The tolls will go away when the bonds are paid off. We promise!
Well they proceeded to build yet another layer onto Illinois government, hire thousands more workers under the same idiot pension plan thats bankrupting the state, and continue to raise the tolls almost annually.
The Elgin-OHare Tollway, which of course goes to neither Elgin nor OHare, now costs $2.00 to go 10 miles.
Last time i was in Chicago there was one every 2 mile or so.
here in MA they are plotting the same.
1st, they are too freaking expensive. I used to have to drive the Bush tollway in Dallas. When I ended up moving to within bike-riding distance of work, I saved about $250/month in tolls. That's just insane. I don't recall how much they were charging per mile, but it was just astounding. I could see spending a dollar per day to use toll roads. Given the way they are all electronic toll booths now, they could easily do that.
2nd, for many of these "new" tolls they are looking at adding, they really aren't new roads. What they are doing is stealing lanes from freeways and tolling them. We the taxpayers already paid for those roads once, thank you. We do not feel like paying over and over for the same road forever. Which leads to...
3rd, tolls never go away. From what I understand, I30 to the south of Dallas was constructed as a toll road. Once the tolls were paid off, the road was converted to a freeway. However, once a "tollway authority" was established, not one single road has ever been 'freed'. We know that they will remain toll roads until the sun runs out of hydrogen.
There is more, but I'll stop there. I hate tolls.
Why settle for either/or? I say both.
Poor design is the cause of a lot of ills. I remember when they first started working on the US75 'canyon' in North Dallas. The first thing they did was close 2/3rds of the exits. Once that happened, and you didn't have people merging in/out every 1/4 mile (or less), the road actually opened up in a massive way, even with the construction going on. We've got the same problem where I live now. There is a stretch with 4 exits all bunched up, and even after massive construction, things still slow down on that stretch of road. If they'd simply close 2 of the exists, (possibly one woudl do the trick) traffic would fly. Unfortunately, local folk would yell bloody murder if they had to drive an extra 1/4 mile to get on the highway, so nothing will ever get done.
Here in MA the Masspike bond was up in the 60’s now it costs like 10 bucks to go west..
Your highways usually have frontage roads, so your government should tell them "tough titties, just drive down the frontage road a little ways."
They might if there weren't so much money in the area.
Yes, when they re-did the stretch through Plano (the re-do 4-5 years ago, not the current re-do of that re-do) They put in an entrance ramp at Park. I thought it would replace the existing entrance ramp. But, no, the brains down at TxDot now have two entrance ramps about a quarter of a mile apart. (Someone did improve the traffic flow across 15th on the frontage road - it might have been the city engineers.
And I can point out places where you have to cross two lanes of traffic to get to an entrance ramp (one on 75 north in Dallas, one on the frontage road for GBT.)
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