I must admit that I was a little taken aback by the title of Ben Wear’s weekly transportation column in today’s AAS, A truck toll break might offer I-35 relief. I thought it would make me mad – how dare they give truckers a break I thought. But Wear did a good job of making the case. After all one of the main reasons we were always told, over and over, that a road East of Austin like SH 130 was built was as a bypass around Austin by 18-wheelers – to get a significant portions of the truck traffic off of I-35. But it wasn’t meant to be, the response from TxDOT to Wear’s suggestion wound up making me mad anyway.
t’s easy to understand why [trucks don't drive on SH 130]. For one thing, a large chunk of trucks entering the Austin area on I-35 carry loads bound for points within the metro area. Texas 130 would be out of the way for them. But even for those 18-wheelers simply passing through, the toll bypass is both 12 miles longer — meaning more diesel cost — and carries a toll of about $26 .
Big rigs, you see, have a toll rate four times that of two-axle vehicles. Every time I write about this, I hear from people suggesting that TxDOT lower or eliminate this truck toll to get more of them off I-35. So I looked into it.
Turns out TxDOT could lower or eliminate the truck toll. The agency’s legal agreement with bond investors requires only that it make enough in tolls to cover its debt payments along with a 40 percent cushion called “coverage.” The three-tollway system of Texas 130, Texas 45 North and Loop 1, while not a wild financial success, is making much more than that.
I asked Mark Tomlinson , TxDOT’s toll division director, if the agency has discussed some sort of truck toll rate cut. Yes, he said, they had, and it’s not out of the question. Is it about to happen?
No, Tomlinson said, saying that it’s no slam-dunk that a toll cut would lure trucks off I-35. It might be worth finding out.
Far be it from them to try and devise a plan so the road can be used as it was intended. They could even use some of the millions of dollars in advertising money that TxDOT has to help truckers understand the new toll strategy.