Truck discount pays off for Austin toll road

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Thursday, January 05, 2012

An incentive to get more truckers using a tolled bypass of downtown Austin, TX, is working by all accounts, including from the truckers themselves. The Texas Department of Transportation has extended the discount through Jan. 25 and the agency hopes to strike a balance between revenue and keeping traffic using the SH 130 toll road.

During a trial run that lasted from Dec. 21, 2011, through Wednesday, Jan. 4, TxDOT lowered toll rates to $9 for truckers who were used to paying – or avoiding – tolls of $29 in cash or $25 if they have a TxTag.

The goal was to get more traffic off the congested Interstate 35 and onto the bypass, and the trial had the desired effect. A TxDOT spokeswoman says truck transactions increased 39 percent on the 56-mile toll road during the trial.

“We’re pleased to see more through traffic choosing to use the tolled bypass around Austin, skipping some of that traffic in the Austin metro area and hopefully getting to their destination a little bit faster,” spokeswoman Karen Amacker told “Land Line Now” on Sirius XM.

Looking beyond Jan. 25, the agency will be crunching some numbers to determine a “sweet spot” for generating revenue to pay for the roadway and keeping traffic using it, Amacker said.

“When it comes to changing toll rates this dramatically on a permanent basis, there are a number of factors you have to consider. Chief among those are the bond covenants that were used to finance the construction of the roadway,” she said.

“We’re going to continue to monitor the number of transactions and the revenue that comes in at this toll-rate level. We’ll try to determine what our path forward is from here, what combination of incentives we can offer the trucking community or regular passenger-vehicle traffic to get to that revenue sweet spot but also increase the amount of traffic on the tolled bypass and relieve some congestion through central Austin.”

Using a toll road boils down to economics for truckers. Studies have shown that truckers will vacate a toll road if the fares are too high, and return if the rate drops enough to provide a benefit in terms of time, mileage and fuel consumption.

OOIDA Life Member Frank Owen of Woodway, TX, noticed an immediate difference in traffic flow on I-35 with the discount in effect.

“It really shows. I just came out of Austin today, and it really surprised me,” Owen said Wednesday. “I was 45 minutes early to my appointment.”

Owen said his route keeps him on I-35 through Austin but says he would run the SH 130 for $9 if his route took him that way.

“If I were running on that, it would be worth the $9,” he said.

About a year ago, TxDOT explored the idea of a 25 percent discount on the SH 130, but Owen and other truckers said 25 percent would not have provided enough incentive.

Land Line Now Staff Reporter Reed Black contributed to this report.

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