Skip to comments.Texas 130 expansion stalls as Texas toll roads go out of style
Posted on 04/10/2018 8:04:47 AM PDT by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
The Texas Department of Transportation has a contractor lined up to add a lane to each side of Texas 130 through Pflugerville, a popular commuter route that often backs up during rush hour.
But the $36.7 million contract with OHL Construction is now caught up in the freeze on toll road projects — even though the project would be an expansion of an existing toll road, funded with toll road revenue. It would not use money from the gas, sales and energy taxes that have been the target of grass-roots anti-toll groups.
“The planning and (bidding) has been done. The contractor is ready to go,” said Rep. Celia Israel, a Democrat whose state House district includes much of the idled Texas 130 project. “TxDOT knows I’m frustrated. But they’ve been put in a political situation by a noisy sliver of the electorate.”
RELATED: Abbott, Patrick hit ‘pause’ on building toll projects
OHL Construction last month submitted the lowest bid among 12 companies to add a toll lane to each side of Texas 130 from U.S. 290 to Texas 45 North. TxDOT practice traditionally has been for such bids to slide immediately onto the Texas Transportation Commission agenda for what amounts to rubber-stamp approval. And the OHL bid was $2.5 million below what TxDOT engineers had estimated the project would cost.
But TxDOT staff, under pressure from Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Republican activists to cease building toll projects, removed that expansion of Texas 130 and OHL’s low bid from the December commission agenda. And on Thursday, the commission approved a long list of project bids that conspicuously did not include the Texas 130 expansion.
It is unclear when, or if, the project — along with a related lane addition on Texas 130 from U.S. 290 to Texas 71 and yet another project to build three more flyovers at U.S. 290 — will be revived.
Toll critics ‘are stirring up the hornets’
Terri Hall, executive director of Texans for Toll-free Highways, has been calling to end toll roads for more than a decade, mostly to little policy effect. But this fall, those years of argument paid off when more than 230 conservative groups and individuals sent a letter to TxDOT, Abbott, Patrick and others decrying a TxDOT plan to build 18 toll projects in Texas metro areas.
Those projects, which in almost all cases would have involved use of some tax money, were scrubbed from TxDOT’s 10-year plan in December.
RELATED: I-35 toll lanes in Austin cut from long-range transportation plan
The Texas 130 project, though different in character and funding, was swept up in the purge. Hall said TxDOT should be eliminating toll roads, not expanding them, no matter the source of funding.
“We’ve been trying to get the tolls off of 130,” Hall said. “We’d rather see that money (that would otherwise fund expansion) be used to buy down the debt.”
TxDOT currently owes about $2.4 billion on the four-road Central Texas Turnpike System, which includes Texas 130. That debt is scheduled to be fully paid off in 2042. The $36.7 million allocated from system surpluses to the Texas 130 lane-addition project amounts to about 1.5 percent of that debt.
Israel and other toll advocates say the problem with the blanket opposition to building toll roads (or expanding them, in this case) is that TxDOT, even with an infusion of $4 billion a year or more in recent years from redistribution of existing state taxes, has nowhere near enough money to address growing traffic.
Toll opponents, she said, “aren’t providing us any new answers. But they sure are stirring up the hornets.”
Israel said the increasingly heavy use of Texas 130 — which has led to significant slowdowns during rush hour north of U.S. 290 and thick morning traffic between U.S. 290 and Texas 71 — indicates that a large percentage of Central Texans see tollways as a boon, not a bane.
“On certain days, it’s bumper to bumper on 130,” she said. “It’s rooftops and schools and infrastructure. As usual, our roads are playing catch up.”
RELATED: Why is TxDOT suddenly retreating from tollways?
Hall, who lives in Comal County, dismissed the heavy traffic on the road in eastern Travis and Williamson counties, saying that people who use Texas 130 don’t have a viable free alternative.
“I don’t think that ridership can totally equate to people buying into tollways,” she said.
Bruce Bugg, chairman of the transportation commission and an Abbott appointee, was not available for comment on Texas 130, TxDOT’s press office said. And Abbott’s office likewise did not respond to a question about the project shutdown.
Other Texas 130 phases affected
Other Central Texas toll projects, including proposed toll lane additions to Interstate 35 and to U.S. 183 in Northwest Austin, likewise have been indefinitely delayed by the commission in the wake of Abbott’s and Patrick’s newly stern attitude about charging for roads. But those projects would have used money generated from constitutional amendments passed by Texas voters in 2014 and 2015, an allocation that seemingly would run afoul of specific prohibitions in those measures.
What became known as Proposition 1 in 2014 (sending some oil and gas tax revenue to TxDOT) and Proposition 7 in 2015 (giving TxDOT a slice of state sales taxes) had language saying that the money could not be used for toll projects. TxDOT had planned to finesse that prohibition by spending the tax money to add free lanes to those urban roads, while using borrowed money for the toll portions of the projects.
RELATED: Propositions 1 and 7 drive more tax money to TxDOT
But that questionable commingling of funds is not what was set to happen with Texas 130, which was planned for expansions in three phases.
TxDOT’s Austin-area turnpike system, while carrying a mountain of debt, is generating more than enough money to make yearly payments on that debt and cover operating expenses. Those surplus funds would be used to build the added lanes on Texas 130 from Texas 45 North to Texas 71 (a total of about $125 million, with expansions broken into two phases), and to contribute $40 million for one of the new flyovers at U.S. 290, which would have no toll charges attached to it.
An additional $80 million for the other two flyovers at Texas 130 and U.S. 290 would be supplied by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which would sell bonds and then repay the debt by imposing tolls on those two bridges. The mobility authority, under a pending agreement with TxDOT, would build that project.
That agreement also has been put on hold, mobility authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said. The agency had already completed construction design documents and was ready to seek bids for the work.
“We spent millions of dollars on the design elements, which are now on the shelf,” Heiligenstein said. “We all know where the politics are on this.
“I think all of this will get cleared up. When, I don’t know.”
I live in Texas and I love toll roads. Those who use the roads pay for them. Those who don’t don’t. Adding toll lanes to existing roads is also a good idea. If you wish to travel in a less congested lane you pay a toll. If you do not wish to pay the toll stay in the bumper to bumper traffic
OUT OF STYLE? Wait till they start getting a cash inflow from the toll roads! They are like a Cash Cow!
In Oklahoma, several toll roads were built back in the 1950s with the promise that when they were paid for they would revert to free roads. Many of these were paid off way back in the 1970s and are STILL toll roads. The money is just too good to let go.
Also, a standard road will take decades to build with billions in cost overruns. A toll road will be in in just a few years and then the money flows! Oh how it flows!
Rick Perry’s moratorium on widening free highways (which was an integral part of the Trans Texas Corridor debacle) was the only way forward for toll roads.
Texas Toll Roads are Democrat boondoggles.
The mistake they made was adding tolled lanes to free highways. Anyone with half a brain could see that coming.
Anyone who loves toll roads must love more gas taxes too.
I will drive 100 miles out of my way to not drive on a toll road. Also I hate the word turnpike like others cringe when they hear the word moist, just seeing that word is enough to make me grind my teeth
“Those who use the roads pay for them.”
Actually pay several times what it cost for the road. In Houston much of our ‘tolls’ go to the city for slush funds. In Pennsylvania, the Turnpike sends $500M a year to train systems in Phili and Pitt.
So, yea, I could live with tolls too, if they ONLY went to the roads being tolled. But since that is NOT THE CASE for virtually all toll roads (other than Kentucky where they paid them off and converted them to freeways), it’s better to NOT HAVE ANY.
I laid sod on the Tulsa-Joplin turnpike when I was 17.
As usual, the criminals in government are never satisfied with the amount of our money they have to spend, nor does the law have any meaning to them if it gets in their way. What would be called fraud by any investigative agency if it were being done by you or I just gets a pass when the government does it.
Last June I drove the entire 130 from Waco to Seguin and a)drove 90 and still got run over and b) its the first time I could see my locator on my dash move as I drove on 130...I could literally watch the arrow move on the 130 map. It took Texas over seven months to find and bill me though.
It wasn’t Texas that billed you. The turnpike authority operating 130 is also notorious for crappy billing practices.
Was not Waco but Jarrell that you drove from. North end of 130 starts there. I like 130 and it does need the expansion. Was just in Florida and the toll roads are crappy compared to 130.
The revolt got momentum in Collin County, where toll roads mark three sides of Plano. When they announced tolls for the free expressway on the 4th side to completely box in the bulk of the city with tolls, the people finally managed to get the attention of the politicians and block the tolls on that road.
And guess what - the construction went forward anyway.
So are they going to toll the entirety of U.S. 75 or just have express lanes, in which case Plano still has effectively one free option? Not that such would be much help, obviously.
In Houston, as I understand it, a modest portion of toll revenue from HCTRA goes to work on free roads in Houston. Sadly, I must admit, that could include bike paths, streetscapes and sidewalks nowadays.
In PA, thanks to Act 44, the PA Turnpike is obligated to send PennDOT $450M per year for work on mass transit systems. Act 89, which was probably the one thing that got Governor Corbett tossed out of office, reduces the payment to $50M in 2023. But that’s still $50M to much, IMO.
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