Texas bills seek to reduce congestion, prohibit tolls

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/27/2013

Multiple bills at the Texas statehouse are intended to reduce congestion and limit the growth of toll roads.

The first bill would put an end to tolls on state Highway 130.

The state used bonds to build the road from Georgetown to south of Austin. However, a private company was tapped to complete the southern portion of the toll road, which opened last fall.

Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, introduced a bill that would ensure truckers and others a “free ride” by converting the 90-mile toll road into Interstate 35 East. He said the switch would help ease congestion on I-35 between Austin and San Antonio.

The bill would allot $1.5 billion from the state’s “rainy day” fund to buy the roadway. The purchase would be contingent on getting a $1.5 billion federal match.

Texas could then buyback from Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure the portion of road from near Austin to Seguin. The 41-mile stretch opened in October 2012 at a cost of $1.4 billion.

The state agreed to a 50-year lease on the toll road, which permits cars and trucks to travel at 85 mph.

Workman’s bill – HB3682 – is in the House Appropriations Committee.

On Wednesday, March 27, The Senate Transportation Committee took up for consideration other notable bills that attempt to rein in the growth of toll roads throughout the state.

One bill would prohibit converting existing roadways into pay-to-play routes.

Texas law authorizes the Texas Department of Transportation to convert an existing toll-free highway, or lanes, into a toll road. County commissioners and local voters are also required to approve the change.

SB1029 would no longer permit TxDOT to move forward with toll conversion plans.

Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, told committee members that roadways built with tax dollars should not cost users to access.

“We need to protect people from double taxation. It is an undue burden imposed by the government,” Campbell said.

Another bill – SB1253 – would forbid the state from lowering posted speeds on alternative, or free, routes near toll roads without engineering to support the change.

Supporters point out that since speeds on SH 130 were posted at 85 mph, speeds on adjacent SH 183 were dropped from 65 mph to 55 mph.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, told committee members that people believe that such actions are deliberate to disincentive the use of alternate routes.

John Barton, TxDOT deputy executive director, assured lawmakers that the 55 mph speed is appropriate for the roadway.

The bill would also require the state DOT to construct exit lanes from toll roads that allow vehicles to easily decelerate to the speed posted on adjoining roads.

The committee didn’t vote on the bills.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas, click here.

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