Texas Transportation Commission to Vote on Toll Policy Dec. 18

Sat December 13, 2003 - West Edition

SAN ANTONIO (AP) State transportation planners would have to consider tolls on any new Texas roads or highway lanes under a proposed policy change for the cash-strapped government.

The Texas Transportation Commission, faced with the state’s inability to afford more than one-third of needed road improvements, was expected to vote Dec. 18 on using toll revenues as a primary tool in funding options.

“It will become part of our normal planning process,” said David Casteel, district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation’s San Antonio office, who announced the proposed policy change Dec. 1 at a local Metropolitan Planning Organization board meeting.

Using tolls to finance new road construction in the state isn’t popular with all.

“It’s not going to be TxDOT; it’s going to be toll-dot,” Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, who heads the planning organization, told the San Antonio Express-News. “That should be the last option that they look at.”

He said toll roads are just a way for the state to shift funding responsibilities to local levels. The Texas Legislature in recent sessions has avoided an obvious alternative of raising the gasoline tax.

“That shows a lack of leadership and a lack of vision,” said Larson.

Casteel said that, if the state policy is adopted, the Transportation Department would look at whether tolling new roads or highway lanes would generate enough traffic and money to be feasible.

One potential benefit of tolls, advocates say, is that the funding they provide would allow highway construction projects to be completed more quickly.

A 50-mi. toll network was earlier proposed by Bexar County commissioners as part of a petition to the state to form a regional mobility authority. The Transportation Commission, which encouraged the petition, might consider the request at the same Dec. 18 meeting.

Planned widening of U.S. 281, Loop 1604 and Interstate 35 is included in the proposed toll network, said Clay Smith, a planning engineer for the Transportation Department in San Antonio. Interchange ramps added on Loop 1604 at U.S. 281 and Interstate 10 could also be covered by tolls.

A public meeting was scheduled with the latest design for turning U.S. 281 into a six-lane highway from Loop 1604 to the Blanco County line.

The state and regional authorities wouldn’t charge tolls on the same road segments. But anywhere local officials don’t look at adding tolls to new lanes, the state would step in to consider.

“We’ll be looking at all roads that add new capacity,” Smith said. “They may not (all) be feasible.”