Tag Archives: Austin Toll Roads

Toll Lanes On I-35 Are The Wrong Solution

Commentary: Why toll lanes for I-35 are the wrong solution

By Bill Oakey – Special to the American-Statesman

Posted: 6:12 a.m. Saturday, December 02, 2017

What part of “no” do some public officials not understand? Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick put the kibosh on more toll lanes for several Texas Department of Transportation projects, including Interstate 35. Almost immediately, state Sen. Kirk Watson and other area politicians cried foul. They insist that state money simply isn’t available to build all the free highway lanes needed in major urban areas.
I believe that an all-or-nothing position in favor of managed toll lanes is a recipe for disaster. On I-35, here’s what would happen with four new managed toll lanes and no increase in the current number of free lanes:

• Traffic will back up far worse than it is today, with four lanes restricted by managed tolls. The population projections for the Central Texas region are huge. The demand for more car lane capacity will increase exponentially.

• Trying to pretend that the demand is not there by discouraging travel with managed toll lanes will result in a water-torture type disaster. Over time, the peak toll rates on I-35 will climb to $14 per one-way trip, as they have in Florida and elsewhere — on roads with more free lanes and fewer NAFTA trucks than I-35. Increasing peak tolls here to $14 and beyond would be absurd. Raise it to, say, $20 per trip, and you will reduce the traffic in those lanes for sure — but you’d magnify the congestion on the free lanes until it becomes unsustainable.

• Dallas and Houston have more than six to eight free lanes on their busiest highways. What makes Austin officials think we can get by with only that many on I-35? Especially with the large number of trucks for the NAFTA trade.

• The demand simply is what it is. Keep recruiting more people to come here, and the traffic congestion on I-35 will eventually become unsustainable. Enforced capacity caps with managed tolls are the wrong solution.

• We hear the argument that if you build more free lanes, they will quickly fill up. Well, duh, that’s because people need to travel. The managed toll philosophy is that people only think they need to go somewhere. Heck, let them stay home or pay through the nose for high tolls. But, what happens when all of that “unnecessary” travel gets factored out, and future demand for needed travel exceeds the road capacity? High tolls will not fix that problem.

• Rapid buses would help to a certain extent, but enough people may not be willing to give up the freedom of their cars to make a difference. Park-and-ride facilities are a great idea. But, it would take a seismic shift in Central Texas lifestyle habits to make a meaningful impact. It would be wonderful if it worked — and maybe it is possible. But who knows for sure? What if the big managed toll gamble backfires?

• Show me where we can find $15 to $20 billion for a citywide urban rail system, then we can discuss that pipe dream.

• Given the high poverty rate in Austin, how are people here supposed to pay monthly bills on a huge network of “gotcha” toll roads? Just try doing the math on peak daily toll charges for commuting 21 workdays per month. Then try it for two sets of tolls for each day. Then three! Even “middle-class” families won’t be able to afford it, as population-driven demand continually forces up the managed toll rates.

• Is everybody ready for years of construction nightmares, only to end up with the same number of free lanes on I-35 that we had 30 years ago?

Abbott and Patrick made the right call on this one. So, where is the state going to get the money to pay for all those “free” traffic lanes? How about a few business taxes to take the load off residential property taxpayers? How about funding education at the state level to reduce property taxes? If that sounds like another pipe dream, we may all get to ponder it together — while we sit stuck in traffic for the rest of our lives.

Oakey is a retired accountant and writes the blog, AustinAffordability.com

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Bombshell – Gov. Abbott & Lt. Gov. Patrick Quash I-35 Toll Lane Plan!

By Bill Oakey – November 18, 2017

The plot thickens in one of the wildest and most twisted tales in Texas transportation history. In a recent blog posting, I lamented the fact that most of our local officials were kept in the dark about the massive $8 billion plan to put 4 new “managed toll lanes” on I-35.  The press release announcing the project caught Travis County Commissioners completely off guard, including the “Road Warriar,” Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. I submitted a detailed list of questions to  quite a few local officials, only to be told that they had not been included in the process. And that they had just as many questions of their own. Really? Yes, really.

Now the whole plan has been blown to bits by both Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In a revealing report, the Texas Tribune explains that in 2014 and 2015, statewide voters approved two Constitutional amendments for highway funding. Each of them authorized the State to send billions of tax dollars to the Texas Department of Transportation, specifically for non-tolled roadway projects. The State’s two top leaders said they acted on behalf of Legislators and their constituents. These folks have complained loudly about road-building plans across the State that contain mostly managed toll lanes. The bombshell hit late Thursday, when State transportation officials announced that they are dropping several of the major toll lane plans, including the one for I-35.

But the drama doesn’t end there. The State Attorney General has been asked to issue an opinion on the legality of an accounting trick that was built into the toll lane plans. The Transportation Dept. had sought to use funds from the voter-approved tax dollars to build or upgrade free lanes. And then use a mixture of Federal money and other funds to build toll lanes next to the free lanes. While you are reading this, heads are rolling and a battle rages over who gets to do what with a limited amount of transportation dollars.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released this statement:

AUSTIN – Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick issued the following statement today in response to recent reports that the latest Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Unified Transportation Plan (UTP) includes the addition of 15 managed toll lanes:

“I oppose adding any additional toll lanes to TxDOT’s UTP. I fought against increasing the state’s reliance on toll roads as a state senator and I have continued that fight as lieutenant governor. The Texas Legislature worked hard to pass Proposition 7 in 2015 to provide billions in funding for transportation infrastructure to help eliminate the state’s need for additional toll roads. Eliminating the need for tolls was one of the primary reasons the Texas Legislature passed Prop 7 and why Texas voters approved it. No new toll roads have been approved by the Senate or the House in the last two sessions and legislators I have spoken with are very unhappy that the Commission seems now to be going in a direction that opposes the will of the legislature and the majority of Texans.

“I spoke with TxDOT Commissioner Bruce Bugg yesterday and reminded him of the legislature’s commitment to reducing tolls. I sent a letter to the Commissioner today asking him to revise the UTP and develop a plan that contains no additional toll lanes.”

To view Lt. Gov. Patrick’s letter to Commissioner Bugg click here.

 What Are the Pros and Cons of Managed Toll Lanes?

I remain both fascinated and befuddled by the theory for managed toll lanes. Advocates claim that they reduce congestion better than free lanes. Why? Because, they say, newly added free lanes would fill up quickly. Therefore, high-priced tolls serve as a wedge to keep too many drivers from clogging up the roads. But let’s step back from that argument for a moment. What if people absolutely need to use that road to get somewhere? Increased population drives up the demand. Keep pouring water into a bucket, and sooner or later, it will overflow. Managed toll lanes reduce the capacity, while year after year the demand keeps rising. Gosh, you don’t suppose that a City like Austin could get so crowded that we can’t accommodate any more people. Of course not. Never! We need to recruit more people to come here as fast as they can…More! More!

With managed toll lanes, the big winners are the wealthy folks who can cruise past everybody else in the faster moving lanes. What many Texans may not know is that managed toll lanes in countless other cities started out with “manageable” rates. Then over time, as congestion increased, they jacked up the rates. Google it and you will see $14 and higher peak toll rates popping up all over the country. Try doing the math on a daily commute with $14 times 2, times 21 workdays per month. Ka-Ching, that’s $588.00! And that assumes that you can get there without using more than one toll road. (See another Texas Tribune article, “Texans Driven Mad As Tolls Burn Holes In Their Wallets.”)

So, What Happens Next?

Lucky us! We’re going to get a citywide rail system. That won’t cost more than $15 or $20 billion. And if you believe that, I’ve got another promise for you. Some sweet day, the Legislature will wake up and realize that balancing State budgets on the backs of residential property taxpayers has reached its sustainable limit. All they have to do is project it out on a chart for the next five years and the next ten years. Or else they can ignore the problem and wait for the public backlash.

Gosh, you don’t suppose businesses could pay their fair share of taxes? You don’t suppose they could pay sustainable wages? Sorry, I just get crazy ideas once in a while. Please don’t hold it against me.

Musical Accompaniment for This Blog Piece:

  1. “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body (Would You Hold It Against Me)” – The Bellamy Brothers
  2. “Life In the Fast Lane” – The Desperado Dreamers (Eagles Tribute)
  3. “On the Road Again” – Willie Nelson
  4. “Hot Rod Lincoln” – Johnny Bond
  5. “Lost Highway” – Johnny Horton

Epic Highway Land Swindle Costs Taxpayers $13 Million

By Bill Oakey – April 17, 2016

As Austin and Central Texas await potential downpours and the return of hazardous flooding, at least we can be thankful for one thing. The shower of State taxpayers’ money that has been raining down on two alleged North Texas swindlers has been cut short by Federal indictments. This past Friday, the Dallas Morning News reported the indictments of two developers who have “conspired to defraud the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) by purchasing property and then selling it to TxDOT at an inflated price.” The scheme allegedly took place over the span of seven years, from June 2008 through July 2015.  The total taxpayer tab comes out to $12,948,321.

The former property owners caught up in this web had faced excruciating wait times for their land to be condemned and purchased. Then, like a scene from an old western movie, the alleged outlaws galloped to their doorsteps with checks in hand. Not more than a few months later, they flipped the properties to TxDOT for handsome profits.

The backstory to this still-unfolding saga raises disturbing questions about the State transportation agency charged with overseeing a massive highway network. In the highlighted news story, a lawyer for the accused states that the land transactions “followed TxDOT’s well-established and transparent guidelines.” Really? We can’t help be reminded of the similarity between this situation and the giant high-tech contracting scandal that engulfed State officials not so long ago.

All kinds of questions can and should be raised. Did other private parties engage in this type of scheme? If so, how much taxpayer money did we lose in total? Who amongst our State officials knew about it, and when did they know it? If in fact, such transactions were standard operating practice, who authorized that practice? And who should have been responsible for the oversight of those transactions, on behalf of the taxpayers? Can we expect another shoe or shoes to drop?

the-other-shoe

From Bandoleros to the Badlands of Austin

Mobility, traffic and affordability are a big deal here in Austin. Of course we depend on TxDOT to run efficiently and provide us with effective solutions. As for highways, we used to call those things “freeways.” That is until somebody flipped a switch and decided that nearly all new interstate road construction in our area would be for toll roads. Not only that, but we can brace ourselves for the pending launch of Austin’s very first “managed toll lanes” on North MoPac. TxDOT does not play a role in the MoPac deal, but get ready for “the heavier the traffic, the higher the toll.” That’s a sweet deal for our wealthiest residents, since even at a modest $4 per one-way trip as once suggested on the toll agency’s website, the monthly bill would be $168 per month for 21 working days.

Sorry for the Digression. Now Back to the Main Topic

Some of you may remember that land-flipping was quite the rage in Texas in the 1980’s. In those days, it was not unheard of for someone to buy a piece of land in the morning and have it flipped by the close of business that same day. Austin was in the throes of a big boom. But what came afterwards was not a pretty sight. The Savings and Loan Crash wiped out a lot of profiteers and speculators, but also took down too many good, hard-working people. History has a nasty way of repeating itself. In the meantime, If it turns out that the North Texas flipper-frenzy with TxDOT was not above-board, then everyone responsible should be held to account.

1920's silent film star, Buster Keaton

1920’s silent film star, Buster Keaton

Musical accompaniment for this blog posting:

  1. Angels Love Bad Men” – The Highwaymen, 1990
  2. This Land Is Your Land” – Pete Seeger (live version of Woody Guthrie’s 1940 classic)
  3. “In the Jailhouse Now” – The Soggy Bottom Boys, from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” 2000
  4. “Highway 40 Blues” – Ricky Skaggs, from the album, “Highways and Heartaches,” 1982

Can We Afford To Sustain The Austin Boom? The Numbers Say No

By Bill Oakey – May 12, 2015

I will never forget the time that I was standing on the shore, gazing out across the beautiful, peaceful sea. Then it started coming, slowly at first, until the sound of its engines overwhelmed me. It was a huge airplane, slicing through the previously silent sky, with an ominous roar. Suddenly the plane dipped and I saw the flames. It was all too real! Was I actually about to witness a crash? Fortunately, I did not fall out of bed. The nightmare just jolted me awake.

On May 11th, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) approved their 2040 Transportation Plan. To the tune of $35.1 billion. That divides out to $1.4 billion every year for 25 years in a row. The Austin area shares the biggest chunk of that burden. And somehow we have to pay for it all.

Our CTRMA toll road authority got a bond rating upgrade last fall…all the way up to BBB and BBB-. Their ambitious plans for both North MoPac and South MoPac call for adding express lanes with high-cost variable tolls that favor the wealthy. But expensive transportation plans are just the beginning.

The shelves in several local offices are bulging with lots of other plans. Travis County’s Downtown Campus Plan and the City’s Downtown Austin plan are already underway. In fact the “Congress Avenue Urban Design Initiative” kicks off on May 20th. You are invited to come and witness the plan to transform Congress into the Champs Élysées of Texas.

Parts of some of these plans are essential, for repairs to aging infrastructure. But just close your eyrs and try to imagine a giant list of plans for every “corridor” of the city. We have an Urban Forestry Plan, a new Aquatics Plan, and an untold number of others – some probably still being “planned.” We have City plans, County plans, Central Health, ACC, AISD, utilty expansions, etc. A new hospital to replace Brackenridge, a new Erwin Center.

One of my affordability goals is to ask for a master list of plans that would include an itemization of costs, with the grand total and the yearly cost to taxpayers. There is little doubt that those figures will be completely unsustainable. That means our public officials will need to set some priorities. The stampede toward Austin from all four corners of the Earth may not end well.

it makes me think about the march of the brooms.

Does anybody remember the story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice?” Maybe there is a great sorcerer out there with enough power to make Austin’s boom last forever. Maybe he can even help us defy gravity. But what if the Great Sorcerer steps away. And we are left with his bumbling apprentice to control all of those brooms – the cars and the plans?  They just keep multiplying, they just keep coming.

You can watch “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” on YouTube.

And I have one other musical option. I will warn you – this is a sad story. It’s about bumping head-on into a sobering reality, with a lead character who is a little bit less than sober. It’s an old country song by Porter Wagoner, “The Cold Hard Facts of Life.”

Holy Cow! Dallas Also Embroiled In Toll-Road-In-The-Park Battle

By Bill Oakey – May 8, 2015

Thursday night’s Austin City Council hearing on toll lanes over Lady Bird Lake brought back fond memories of grass-roots citizens coming together to fight for the Save Our Springs Ordinance (SOS) back in the early 90’s. The overwhelming majority of last night’s speakers do not want a double-decker bridge with unaffordable surge-priced tolls built over Lady Bird Lake.

Highlights from the meeting included Travis County Commissioner and SOS co-founder, Brigid Shea, reading a letter from Luci Baines Johnson. The crowd in the Council Chambers went wild! Several speakers pointed out that major cities around the world are now or have been removing highways from parks and waterways. These include Seattle, Portland, Boston, Singapore and even Seoul, South Korea.

When the dust settled and all the speakers had made their appeals, newly elected Mayor, Steve Adler, shined like a beacon. He spoke eloquently of Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park and Auditorium Shores being the “Crown Jewels of Austin.” No one who engaged with him could match his grasp of the details. There wasn’t a person in the room who could match Adler’s acumen for citing Federal regulations, previous CAMPO grant application language or any other minute details. (My own whimsical thoughts of challenging the Mayor to a game of Scrabble have been placed on hold indefinitely).

After lengthy discussions and much nitpicking over the wording, the City Council voted 9 to 2 to adopt a resolution calling for an independent City study of alternatives for the road’s size and location. The resolution also calls upon the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO), to work closely with City officials in their own study, which is already underway. Importantly, the resolution does not call for abandoning the road project altogether. Many speakers supporting the single option of four toll lanes over Lady Bird Lake characterized the Council resolution as nothing more than an environmentalist attack on traffic relief for South Austin.

Take a Look At What’s Happening In Dallas!

It turns out that the good people of Dallas are fighting a very similar battle. And it will all come to a head in a big City Council election happening tomorrow (Saturday May 9th). Take a look at the article below:

Poll finds Dallasites’ support for toll road within Trinity River levees tepid

 Follow @brandonformby bformby@dallasnews.com

Transportation Writer, Dallas Morning News

April 22, 2015

As the size of the Trinity Parkway grew in recent years, so did a chasm between how Dallas residents and top city officials view the controversial toll road, a poll by The Dallas Morning News shows.

Rally Tomorrow To Stop $12 to $14 Toll Lanes Over Lady Bird Lake!

By Bill Oakey – May 1, 2015

One of the biggest rallies to hit Austin in a long time will take place at 10:30 tomorrow morning, and you need to be there! Even if you had other plans, this will be a moment in history not to be missed.

Mayor Steve Adler, Commissioner Brigid Shea, other leaders and  several of Austin’s most prominent grass roots organizations are hosting this event to stop a massive double-decker toll bridge over Lady Bird Lake. If it were built, not only would the tranquility of Zilker Park and Lady Bird Lake be lost forever, but drivers who use these toll lanes would be hit with tolls up to $12 to $14 per trip.

Picture yourself strolling along the hike and bike trails like you’ve done for years. Now you are about to enjoy the peaceful breeze and the views as you step onto the Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge. Suddenly you are transported to five years in the future. All you can hear is a deafening roar. The bridge vibrates and shudders as you try to walk. The person standing next to you can’t hear a word that you say…Then you’re back in 2015. You hear an old song with a new meaning, Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

Don’t let it happen. Come to the rally tomorrow!

RALLY to STOP the Double Decker Toll Roads over Lady Bird Lake

Saturday, May 2 @ 10:30am

Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge – Under Mopac (near Austin High School on Stephen F. Austin Blvd)

The toll road authority plans to build FOUR TOLL LANES on MOPAC from Cesar Chavez to Slaughter Lane, including a double-decker toll road bridge over Lady Bird Lake & Zilker Park with a flyover next to Austin High School.  The plan will not increase public lanes, only add expensive toll lanes (possibly costing as much as $12-14 a trip) & expand MoPac to 12 lanes! (I-35 has 8)  The toll authority has added this plan to our regional transportation plan (called CAMPO 2040 Plan) – we’re urging them to scale this plan back. The CAMPO Plan also includes connecting I-35 to MoPac via SH45 SW, creating a western bypass and adding thousands of extra cars & trucks DAILY to MoPac. 

If you love Austin and want to protect our Lady Bird Lake, Zilker Park, Barton Springs, Hike/Bike trails, Austin High School, Lamar Beach, Neighborhoods & Downtown – Please be at the RALLY this Saturday.

This four lane toll road / double-decker bridge plan was authorized by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) Staff & Board of Directors.

Please visit the Rally Facebook page and Keep Mopac Local for more information.

CTRMA’s drawing of expanded MoPac, plus double-decker over Lady Bird Lake & Zilker Park (12 Lanes of traffic)  Will block out sky above Roberta Crenshaw Pedestrian Bridge!

RALLY HOST COMMITTEE (partial list)

Brigid Shea, Travis County Commissioner
Steve Adler, Austin Mayor
Kathie Tovo. Austin Mayor Pro Tem
Delia Garza, Austin Council Member
Leslie Pool, Austin Council Member
Amber Elenz, Austin ISD Board Trustee
Paul Saldana, Austin ISD Board Trustee
Laura Morrison, Former Austin Council Member
Jim Harrington, Founder/Director Texas Civil Rights Project
Nelson Linder, President NAACP
Dr. Sterling Lands, II, Senior Pastor Greater Calvary Church
Heyden Black Walker, Reconnect Austin
Clark Richards, Attorney & son of Ann Richards
Susan & Jerry Jeff Walker, Environmental Leaders & Musician
Robin Rather, Environmental Leader

Keep Mopac Local Coalition:

Save Barton Creek Association
Save Our Springs Alliance
Austin Sierra Club
Clean Water Action
Environment Texas
Friendship Alliance of Northern Hays County
Fix 290 Coalitions
Tex PIRG

—————————————————————–

Bridge Over Troubled Water

Composed by Paul Simon

When you’re weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I’m on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I’ll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on, Silver Girl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine
If you need a friend
I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

The MoPac Lexus Lanes: A More Fair And Compassionate Alternative

By Bill Oakey – Revised Version, April 30, 2015

Longtime Austinites know only too well what a traffic nightmare MoPac has become. Even the name “MoPac” conveys gloomy and forboding thoughts. How many times have heard somebody say, “I sure dread getting onto MoPac today,” or “Can you think of any other way to get there besides MoPac?’

For years we have heard politicians and transportation officials talk about possible improvements to MoPac. Last year, we finally heard about a plan. But for nearly all of us, it was not a proposed plan up for discussion. Instead, it was a “Here’s how it’s going to be” plans. (I was tempted to say, “It’s our way or the highway.”)

The CTRMA, which is the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, has decided that it’s in all our best interests to “fix” MoPac by adding new toll lanes. It’s bad enough that our local leaders did not fight hard to keep MoPac free. After all, if the sections of MoPac and I-35 that run through Austin are not the highest priority for State funding, then tell me which other roads are.

Later this year, North MoPac will usher in new “express lanes” for the privileged few who can afford them. The tolls will be jockeyed up and down by a convoluted system designed to “manage” the traffic flow on the new lanes. The more traffic, the higher the tolls. This particular scheme has been adopted in other cities. But CTRMA’s version is a terrible idea for many reasons.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

This plan was dumped in our laps with little widespread public discussion. We haven’t been told how much the seesawing scale of tolls will cost those bold enough to try this brand of “traffic relief.” But we can be sure of one thing – the price will not be cheap. Especially in an increasingly unaffordable Austin.

Here is the picture that comes to mind with the new Lexus Lanes. One reason that MoPac has become so crowded is that thousands of folks have been priced out of their Central City homes into more affordable suburban neighborhoods. These are the good, hard working citizens who paid their taxes in Austin for 20 or 30 years, if not longer. What is their reward for helping to make Austin the desirable place that it is today? Banishment to the suburbs with high commuting and car maintenance costs. Not to mention the excruciating traffic woes.

The people who face the biggest financial burdens and deserve traffic relief the most are being told that their place on the “improved” MoPac will be at the back of the line. As they sluggishly crawl through gridlocked traffic day after the day, they will be treated to a most unwelcome sight. A zippidy-fast  parade of well-to-do drivers will be streaking by in their Lexuses, Teslas and fancy sports cars. These folks will not even notice that there are thousands of “regular people” inching past their hometown neighborhoods, en route to suburban exile. Instead of worrying about traffic, the Lexus set will be savoring their luxury shopping and dining experiences at the Domain or something similar.

So, What’s the Word On the Toll Cost and Other Big Questions?

Just chew on these words, taken directly from the MoPac Express website:

1. How high can the toll rate go?

There is no limit on the toll rate. Most of the time, the rate is expected to be $4.00 or less, but it could be much higher at times when traffic is especially heavy and demand to use the Express Lanes is high.”

(Note that at $4.00 per one-way trip, the monthly cost for 21 workdays would be $168.00. But it will only be that low when traffic is not “especially heavy.”)

2. Will carpools pay a toll to use the express lanes?

“Yes. Drivers who carpool will pay the same toll as regular users. However, because carpoolers are sharing a ride, they will have the option to split the cost, making trips more affordable.”

(In a review of several other cities with express lanes, every single one I found offered free access for carpoolers and even motorcycles).

3. Will disabled veterans, Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients be exempt from paying the tolls?

“The Mobility Authority Board and staff are grateful for the dedication and sacrifice of our military veterans. However, in order to ensure the Express Lanes remain free flowing, toll free travel will only be provided to buses and van pools operated by public transit agencies like Capital Metro and to vehicles specifically exempt from toll payment under state law.”

(OMG! Many other Texas toll roads offer free access to these classes of veterans. See this link).

4. The first item under the “Tolling” section of the FAQ’s on the MoPac Express website contains the most important sentence you will ever see. To ensure that it is never lost to history, I have preserved it as a screen shot:

“The goal of the higher toll rates is not to increase revenue but to manage traffic and maintain free flow speeds on the Express Lane.”

(Remember that quote. It can help us win the battle to reform the MoPac “improvements!”)

What Can We Do To Take Back MoPac and Preserve Austin Values?

I have submitted the following proposal to the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners:

  1. Set up a lottery system for regular commuters to register online to be eligible to drive on the express lanes. The winners would pay an affordable fixed-rate toll. Their TxTag numbers would go into the computer system. Drawings could be held every 3 to 4 months.
  2. Determine how many driver slots should be allocated for each drawing. I believe that the majority of the available capacity should go to the commuters. This would need to be measured against the number of registered vanpools, buses and emergency vehicles.
  3. The appropriate number of leftover vehicle capacity could be subject to the variable tolls. There are people who may want to pay for a faster trip for any number of reasons, and some may not use MoPac at all on a regular basis.
  4. Set up a meeting with the CTRMA. Ask them to adopt this proposal on behalf of the people of Austin. The proposal is “out of the box,” for sure. But we will never reach affordability results without innovative solutions.
  5. Ask the CTRMA to deliver a set of potential scenarios for the slope of the curve on the variable tolls. What will the criteria be for determining the variable price points? Why not make the curve as affordable as possible until the traffic gets very close to the capacity limit?
  6. Provide full transparency to the public after the final decision is made on how the express lanes will operate. This is critical to ensure a successful public buy-in for the project.
  7. If there is already a contract in place that sllows the CTRMA to manage the lanes without any oversight or input from the City / County, then meet with them anyway, and urge them to compromise for the good of the community. A positive spirit of cooperation should be at the heart of Austin’s New Way Forward.

If you agree with this suggestion, please use these single email links to contact all members of the Austin City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court.