02.12.07

Toll Roads And The Cost Per Mile

Posted in Road Issues, Williamson County at 11:38 am by wcnews

Ben Wear’s article in today’s AAS, Toll roads: Paying a lot to drive a little, details for us that the most heavily traveled areas of the toll roads have the highest tolls. Put another way if you travel the roads for convenience or in the most populated areas you will pay a premium price for that. If your one of the few who use these roads from one end to the other, you’ll pay a more reasonable rate. In case you forgot when we were sold these roads Rep. Krusee and his ilk told us the tolls would average 12 cents a mile. Now read this.

So, what does it cost you to drive on Central Texas’ emerging toll road system?

Well, about 12 cents a mile. Unless it’s 18 cents, or 40 cents, or 64 cents. Or, in one notable spot near Lakeline Mall, a cool $1.50 a mile.

Mike Heiligenstein - member of Williamson County’s revolving door club - former Williamson County Commissioner and now ED of the CTRMA tells us why this is:

The startup agency originally was going to build 11.6 miles of tollway, all the way from RM 620 to U.S. 183 north of Leander. But a traffic and revenue study done about three years ago indicated that, in the road’s first decade, traffic north of RM 1431 would not justify the additional $100 million or so necessary to build express lanes all the way.
So the agency decided instead to build about 4.5 miles of tollway on the south end and then free two-lane frontage roads for the seven northernmost miles. But to pay back money borrowed to build all this, the agency will charge $1.80 for that 4.5-mile tollway trip. That’s 40 cents a mile.

Of course, if you happen to live in Leander or points north, or have other business up that way, you’ll be able to drive the whole 11.6 miles for that $1.80, stopping at a few stoplights in the free part. Cost: 15.5 cents a mile.

“Admittedly, it does get confusing,” said Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the mobility authority since shortly after it was created in 2002. He compared the situation to a water system, in which early users of the system might have to pay for more of the startup costs of water mains but people in more outlying areas developed later get lower costs.

“We tried to hit the middle ground and give everyone a little something,” he said. “Not everything’s always fair.”

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.

Not much a 12 cents a mile. Not to worry, think about the time you’ll save. More time machine BS. Looks like the tollers have market tested the whole time-saving line and are going to use it as their CYA slogan all the time. But towards the end Bob Daigh tells us that another reason this type of payment method was put in place is because drivers are too stupid and if they hadn’t done this it would cause traffic jams. (Don’t worry Bob at these prices no enough cars will be on them to cause traffic jams).

Toll authorities increasingly have been setting rates in multiples of 25 cents, because automatic coin collection machines operate better with a single coin size and because it simplifies the coin scramble for drivers. That shortens time at booths and thus reduces toll plaza traffic congestion.

So, to diminish the per-mile disparities, couldn’t the toll on some ramps have been just 25 cents? The state Transportation Department decided against that, said Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer. Daigh was in the agency’s turnpike division when the Austin roads were in the final planning stages.

“It’s driver expectation,” Daigh said. “They need to know, ‘This is a ramp plaza, and it’s 50 cents.’ If you make that one 25 cents, you’ve introduced a question in the driver’s mind as he goes to the next one. He has his quarter out, and it’s really 50 cents, so you stack up traffic while he’s searching for a second quarter.”

Thanks Ben, this is a step in the right direction. At least you’re reporting on the problems with toll roads now. It would be nice to have those opposed to these toll roads represented in you reporting as well.

2 Comments »

  1. salcostello said,

    February 12, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Ben called me some days ago to comment on this story.

    It’s possible he had me in there and the editors cut it. For example, the Statesman editors only allow pro-toll letters to the editor since the tolls opened up.

    Thanks
    Sal Costello
    The Muckraker
    http://salcostello.blogspot.com/

  2. wcnews said,

    February 12, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    I thought reporters were supposed to stand up for stuff like getting both sides in their stories?

    Like I said this was a much better story by Ben then ususal and the quotes by Heiligenstein and Daigh were asinine. That went a long way to aiding the anti-toll side. But the only balance was a citizen who generally likes the new toll roads just not this overcharging aspect. And, again, this story doesn’t mention anywhere in it how much fairer and cheaper these roads would be if funded by a gas tax.

    My point being while this is better than we’ve been getting from Ben it’s still a long way off from what the public needs and what the AAS and the overall media should be doing to scrutinized this issue.

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