Texas planners halt toll-road plan

| Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Road planners said this week that they put the brakes on an unpopular proposal to convert an eight-mile stretch of Texas highway in northwest Harris County into a toll road to fund a northward extension.

Instead, they told a group of local officials, residents and business owners that other funding options would be considered for Texas Highway 249, the Tomball Parkway, including a mix of free and high-occupancy toll lanes.

Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce, told the Houston Chronicle that the Oct. 11 announcement by Gary Trietsch, district engineer for the Texas Transportation Department, helps alleviate concerns that a toll road would harm “the vitality and growth of our businesses.”

The targeted segment, from the Sam Houston Tollway to a point two miles north of Spring Cypress Road, consists of a six- to eight-lane freeway with three-lane frontage roads in the area southeast of Tomball. Its conversion to a toll road would have been the state’s first use of a new funding tool authorized by the Texas Legislature in 2003.

The Texas Transportation Commission mandates all major new road projects and expansions be studied to see whether toll financing is viable.

The proposed extension of the segment through Tomball to Pinehurst and eventually Navasota could still be developed as a toll road, Trietsch said. Currently, that stretch is a mix of three-lane frontage roads and a four- to six-lane highway with stoplights.

The decision to not toll Texas 249 follows a similar conclusion reached last month on the state’s far west side.

In El Paso, a task force turned aside a recommendation to toll motorists on Interstate 10 or Loop 375 to pay for road improvements. Instead, the group opted to consider tolling only large trucks on a possible new tollway in far west El Paso County. It would be called the Northeast Parkway.

The task force estimates the toll road would cost more than $100,000 million.

TxDOT says construction could start in the next five years.

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