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Tolls set to go up on Austin toll roads - disabled vets will get a free pass

Category: News

Link to article here.

Notice how Rick Perry backpeddles and asks his Transportation Commission to honor the law passed by Texas lawmakers to allow disabled vets to use toll roads for free. Yet he doesn't care about the rest of Texans who can't afford his punitive new taxes in the hands of his unelected commission and the unelected toll authority boards who imposed new toll taxes without our consent.

How much sense does a toll hike make when there are already not enough users of these three toll roads to even pay for the debt service payments? All Texans have bailed out these roads to the tune of $100 million in gas taxes already. Increasing rates will knock even more drivers off of these roads, not attract more traffic. This defies simple economics.

 

Also below is a related article where Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt calls these tolls a "taxation scheme" by TxDOT that's not a fair or affordable way to address roads and mobility.


Toll rates going up on three area roads; disabled vets to see tolls waived on TxDOT tollways

By Ben Wear and Jeremy Schwartz
Austin American Statesman
Published: 8:22 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012

Toll rates on three Central Texas tollways will go up 25 percent to 50 percent in January, the Texas Transportation Commission decided Thursday, and drivers will no longer be able to use cash to pay for tolls.

Also Thursday, the commission authorized free tolls for disabled veterans on all of its toll roads, including those in Central Texas. Last month, the American-Statesman reported that despite a 2009 law allowing discount programs for disabled vets, the Texas Department of Transportation and other toll authorities in the state had declined to implement free tolls for vets. Free tolls for veterans will be available on Texas 130, Texas 45 North, Texas 45 Southeast and Loop 1, as well as toll roads in Tyler and near Laredo.

The toll increases and the waiver for disabled vets and Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients go into effect Jan. 1. The increases on Texas 130, Texas 45 North and Loop 1 Tollway come two years earlier than projected when TxDOT in 2002 borrowed $2.2 billion to build the three roads. Projections shared with investors showed that tolls on the three roads would remain at their original levels until 2015.

For a driver who travels the entire 3.5 miles of Loop 1 Tollway, the cost using an electronic toll tag will increase from the current 68 cents to $1.02, a 50 percent increase and about 29 cents a mile. On Texas 45 North, which is 13.3 miles long, the toll tag cost would go from $1.36 to $2.04, also a 50 percent increase and about 15.3 cents a mile.

On Texas 130's 49 miles, the total toll would jump from $5.40 to $6.75, a 25 percent rise and about 13.8 cents a mile.

Truckers and other drivers with more than two axles pay more than those rates. And the per-mile rate varies from driver to driver, depending on where one enters and exits a tollway.

People who have been using cash to drive the three tollways will see even greater percentage increases in costs unless they arrange to get an electronic toll tag.

Currently, the cash cost is about 10 percent higher than the toll tag rate on all three roads. But the pay-by-mail rate for those who don't have a toll tag and choose not to stop and pay cash is 33 percent higher than the toll tag rate. For instance, a driver who currently pays 75 cents cash at main lane toll plazas on Loop 1 Tollway and Texas 45 North would begin to pay $1.36 in January, an 81 percent increase unless the car has a toll tag.

The comparable increase for Texas 130 cash drivers would be 50 percent.

Less than 8 percent of toll charges on the three roads are paid in cash, according to TxDOT data. Almost three-quarters of toll charges on those roads are paid using toll tags.

The new tolls, with the exception of Loop 1 Tollway, will still be lower on a per-mile basis than the area's most expensive tollway, 183-A in Cedar Park and Leander.

Driving the 9.6-mile length of that road, which was constructed and belongs to the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, costs about 29 cents a mile.

Eliminating the toll booths on the three TxDOT tollways will bring the roads into line with 183-A and Texas 45 Southeast, which were designed and built only a couple of years later but after the toll industry had begun to move away from cash payment.

Bob Kaufman, TxDOT's communications director, said that eliminating the cash option will save the agency about $8 million a year.

Veterans program

In late July, the Statesman reported that, with the exception of a toll authority in the Houston area, toll authorities in the rest of the state had opted not to implement the 2009 law, which was aimed at reducing costs for veterans seeking medical treatment. Veteran advocates also argued that veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder would have an easier time navigating the less congested toll roads.

At the time, state transportation officials said their informal estimates showed such a program could potentially reduce annual revenue by up to 10 percent. But officials with the Harris County Toll Road Authority, which in 2009 adopted free tolls for disabled veterans on its toll roads in the Houston area, told the Statesman that disabled veterans account for just 0.8 percent of toll transactions.

"I am very pleased that after all this time that it has finally happened," Travis County Veterans Service Officer Olie Pope said.

According to the Department of Transportation, Gov. Rick Perry earlier this month called on the state transportation commission to begin implementing the program. "Hopefully, it encourages the rest of the toll authorities to do the same," said Josh Havens, a Perry spokesman.

Transportation officials said that they were able to implement the program after performing another revenue analysis. "We went back and did some more evaluation on it and found while there is an impact, it's in the million dollar (per year) range," Kaufman said.

Although the department originally told legislators in 2009 that its agreement with bondholders would prohibit such a discount program for veterans, Kaufman said the new numbers showed the department does not appear to need bondholder approval to implement the program.

"We are able to celebrate our freedom more each and every day due to the unwavering sacrifice of our military's brave men and women, so making it a bit easier for them to move through our great state is the least we can do," Phil Wilson, executive director of the Transportation Department, said in a statement.

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08/31/2012 05:48 PM

Commissioner: TxDOT’s tolls a 'taxation scheme'

By: Jeff Stensland

YNN News

Increased tolls on State Highways 130 and 45, and even MoPac, came as a surprise to Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt.

Aside from her work on the commission, Eckhardt is the vice-chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, and says the Texas Department of Transportation is more concerned about making money than easing congestion.

"SH-130 was built on the promise it would be a bypass and relieve trucking traffic, and it's doing nothing of the kind," Eckhardt said.

Also approved Thursday, Central Texas Tolling System is getting rid of toll booths for cash-paying customers.

Beki Halpin is with the anti-tolling group, Fix 290.

"Life is getting to be so expensive just for your normal expenses like transportation that people aren't able to save money," she said.

Toll road officials say closing the toll booths will save about $8 million a year in operating costs, but they still need to increase rates to be more competitive with CTRMA roads like Highway 183A.

"What they need to do is pay attention to what is right for the taxpayer, what is right for the people in this area. It needs to be affordable," Halpin said.

Central Texas Tolling System declined an on-camera interview with YNN, but in a response to written questions, Spokeswoman Kelli Reyna said, "We think more and more drivers in Central Texas are becoming accustomed to using toll roads and like the convenience of getting where they need to be without driving in congested areas."

Even going into the Labor Day weekend, minutes would go by before YNN cameras could catch a cluster of cars on SH 130.

Eckhardt calls it a "toll taxation scheme."

"It frustrates me incredibly,” she said “I've said for years that the more appropriate transportation funding mechanism is one that is broad-based and sits on the shoulders lighter."

The new toll rates take effect Jan. 1 first. TxDOT officials say the tolls will increase every year after in line with the consumer price index.