TX Tags and 183-A

Posted in Road Issues, Commentary, Williamson County at 11:46 am by wcnews

The Hill Country News recently published a Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA) News Release (.PDF) in its news section, 183A toll begins for all drivers - nothing technically wrong with that, just lazy. Their pro-toll stance is still well intact.

Reading this “news” item it’s apparent that the CTRMA spent quite a bit of its resources trying to communicate to potential local drivers of this toll road the idiosynchrosies of just how the tolling will take place on this stretch of road.

The enforcement effort follows a major community outreach program aimed at informing drivers about the new road which opened to traffic on March 3, 2007. The program included television ads, radio spots, community events, direct mailings, multiple newspaper inserts, e-newsletters and a virtual tour video of the project.

Here’s the video if you have 10 minutes. For all the money the CTRMA spent on outreach it seems it would have been much cheaper to put in few more cash lanes rather than enter into contract with law enforcement. A reasoned approach, for the consumers anyway, would keep the tolling policy consistent with the toll roads they’ve already become accustomed to using. But this is not about thrift, sense or the customer. It’s about selling TxTags.

The enforcement of catching toll scofflaws at just the toll booths on 183-A creates confusion. Especially because earlier in the year, as the first toll roads opened, TxDOT told us not to worry, just drive through and you’ll get a bill. While it’s mentioned in that article that 183-A won’t be using “video tolling” it’s not mentioned that there will be TxTag only gantries where cash won’t be accepted. While it’s obvious to those responsible for the creation of these roads how they work, it’s quickly turning into a myriad of different tolling schemes as we drive between tolling authorities. Reminds me of the alcohol laws in the Dallas area. Is this town dry or do I have to drive 20 minutes to get a six pack?

While there has been confusion since 183-A opened the thing I’m noticing with all of our new toll roads is there always a catch to get us to buy a toll tag. Getting pulled over by the police for driving through the wrong booth is not enjoyable, maybe even frightening, for some people. If drivers can’t take the hint from all the attempts listed above to goad them into buying a TxTag - they even tried to get non-profit’s to use it as a fund raiser (.PDF) - then they’ll scare people into buying one. And if that doesn’t work, they’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse:

First time offenders can have the $5.00 fee waived if they sign up for a TxTag account.

I don’t live in the Cedar Park/Leander area and can’t really speak to 183A’s usefulness. Looking at the map (.PDF), it looks nonsensical. It’s also obvious they want to make drivers pay big money for convenient access to the biggest attraction in the area, Lakeline Mall. Happy motoring, and keep an eye on your rear-view mirror.


  1. deh said,

    June 6, 2007 at 2:05 pm

    Cedar Park has built up along US 183 (and Leander, to some extent), so it’s a lot like driving US 79 through Round Rock or SH 95 through Taylor or SH 29 through Georgetown. And many Cedar Park residents commute into Austin, so 183A is likely to get a lot of use. I don’t think the Lakeline Mall has much to do with it; the northbound exit is free, for example, and Lakeline Blvd is an attractive alternative to those that live to the northwest, which is most Cedar Park residents.

  2. wcnews said,

    June 6, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    I can understand all of that. But why did they configure the on and off ramps the way they did? Why did they decide to put toll booths where they would be charging some of the highest, if not the highest, toll rates in the nation right around the mall? And make those areas without cash lane, making it mandatory for folks that want to drive those lanes to get a TxTag? Make the area, around the most traveled area of the road toll tag only and therefore the roads worthless unless a driver buys a tag for all their vehicles.

    CTRMA ED Mike Heiligentstein has admitted the Lakeline “anomaly” was put in as a convenience.

    As for that Lakeline Boulevard anomaly, Heiligenstein points out that originally the Lakeline Mall Drive exit was going to carry a 50-cent charge (45 cents for people with toll tags). But that would have put the last free exit on northbound U.S. 183 well south of RM 620.

    “We added that as a sort of convenience, as a courtesy,” he said.

    And Heiligenstein pointed out, as did others, that if people stay on 183-A for those extra 500 yards and pay that 45 cents, they’re actually purchasing time rather than distance: the time saved by avoiding a stoplight.

    Convenience for who?

  3. salcostello said,

    June 6, 2007 at 4:27 pm

    What a joke.

    The video says they are a multi-modal authority…yeah right, toll roads and more toll roads.

    And all the toll roads come with different instructions. Smart.

  4. deh said,

    June 6, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    I agree that the configuration seems whacked. My reaction here is to the “obvious” comment. Not only it is not obvious to me that CTRMA is trying to capture mall traffic, it’s obvious to me that if that was their goal, they’ve done a poor job of it; there are plenty of ways to get to the mall for free, many of them better than going through a toll booth. The TXTAG-only gates are the ones closest to the mall as the crow flys, but so what? The southbound one is past where you’d exit to the mall!

  5. wcnews said,

    June 6, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    I’ll concede your point on the mall not having driven those roads yet and make an effort to got drive it in the near future so I can make a more experience-based argument. I may be carrying over my experience with the SH-45/IH-35 where it’s apparent that the toll roads were built for easy access to and from the shopping center as long as your paying tolls.

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