North Texas bureaucrats drive transportation-toll regime

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Road tripping down memory lane: Financial constraints drive transportation plan in new direction
By Monique Oaks, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Published: Thursday, December 13, 2012 12:39 AM CST

The North Central Texas Council of Governments went on tour this week to inform and gather feedback from local residents on transportation plan recommendations they will forward to the Regional Transportation Council.

Monday evening at the Allen City Hall marked the first of three public meetings where NCTCOG representatives discussed proposed modifications to funded projects maintained in the Transportation Improvement Program; updates to the congestion management process; and changes regarding managed and high-occupancy vehicle lane policies.
Transportation planner Robert Pacleb presented information about modifications to the TIP, which involves funding for projects. Senior Program Manager Natalie Bettger headed the presentation regarding the CMP.

"There are different strategies that we want to implement [depending on] what type of congestion it is," Bettger said. "That's really what the CMP is about: How do we manage the demand on our transportation system instead of just continuing to build more and more roads?"

Dan Lamers, senior program manager, discussed the draft for the HOV lane and tolled managed lane policies modifications process. He included a graphic that showed blue and orange lines depicting HOV lanes and tolled managed lanes, respectively.

"In particular, the area around US 75, LBJ and the east side of Central and east RL Thornton, Interstate 30 to the east of downtown Dallas - those are the corridors where there are current HOV lanes today," Lamers said.

"The plan, it is financially constrained, and we didn't feel like that we could propose any complete reconstruction of those three corridors," Lamers said. "... So those HOV lanes that are out there today will have to stay there for the foreseeable future, unless there is a large infusion of money and we can afford to do something in those corridors."

Lamers said the tolled, or permanent, managed lanes will be completely rebuilt.

"You have three different options: you'll have free frontage roads, free main-lane freeway lanes, and you'll have tolled managed lanes," he said. "And the difference in those corridors, again, as I said, due to financial reasons, we cannot afford to just add free capacity to the roadway system anymore ... The tolls will be used - are being used - to essentially pay for all of the improvements in that corridor."

Previously, there were three rounds of meetings during which various permutations of HOV lane strategies were presented to the public. In the first round, representatives from NCTCOG floated the idea of "changing the occupancy level on the current HOV lanes from two to three," Lamers said.

"What we heard loud and clear from members of the public and several elected officials was that they did not like the idea," he said.

Round 2 brought with it the idea to require new HOV users to have three occupants in their vehicles, leave the permanent lanes with three, and grandfather current HOV users at two.

"That's a pretty tough logistical thing to try to make happen," Lamers said. "What we heard, again, loud and clear, was, 'That is really confusing ... You've got to do something different.'"

With Round 3 came the idea of "enhanced monitoring," which would have required triggering three-plus HOV lanes whenever the existing lanes became full.

Lamers said the response to that idea was that it was also confusing, so NCTCOG staff members will now recommend to the RTC to phase in the three-plus HOV lane requirement over time. They will also recommend suspending the rebate that would have occurred if the speed in managed lanes drops below 35 mph.

"In the blue lanes," Lamers said, "it would essentially be: continue to operate them as HOV lanes, like they are today, but to allow single-occupancy vehicles - non-HOV vehicles - to be able to also use those lanes for a price."

Participants were encouraged to ask questions following the presentations. Allen resident Marcelle Jones wanted clarification about the rebates; she also asked whether all users would need to register in order to use HOV lanes.

"That's correct," Lamers said. "Everybody will have to have a TollTag, because if you don't, and you go, you cross under the tolling equipment, if you don't have anything, there'll be no way for an officer to know that you didn't pay the toll."

A second line of questioning came from Prosper resident Ann Lieber, who asked Bettger about NCTCOG's definition of "sustainable development" and what initiatives they plan to ensure it.

"Some of our sustainable development initiatives include mixed-use development, transit-oriented development, revitalization of downtown areas. And what we try to do from a transportation perspective is fund the transportation components of those developments," Bettger said.

"If it rhymes with taking vehicles off of the roadway system, that helps us with air quality," Lamers said. "Our interest is to try to reduce congestion, improve air quality and to maximize the efficiency of the transportation system."

Bettger invited North Texans to give their opinions in an online survey about which roadways they experience as the most congested. The survey at will be open until Friday, Dec. 14.

A video recording of the presentations will be posted on the NCTCOG website. For information, visit

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