Tag Archives: Texas 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

Advertisements

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