Greater Benefits from the New Era of Tolling

Mike Heiligenstein is Executive Director of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority

Tolling of highways has changed over the years as new technologies continue to be developed to eliminate the hassles of toll booths and improve convenience. Not that long ago, toll roads were often looked as mere temporary solutions to traffic problems, with tolls that would be eliminated after they had run their course. This was the case in 1957, when Texas constructed the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike, now known as I-30.

But what happens to the cost of running a road once it’s built? Maintenance for safety and appearance, as well as continuous upgrades to keep up with growth make operating a modern highway very expensive. Delaying repairs only makes the costs rise even more, as illustrated in a recent news story that chronicled the decrepit condition of the Washington D.C. Beltway.

In Texas, revenue from state gas taxes will provide insufficient funds over the long haul due to increased vehicle efficiency and a gas tax that hasn’t been adjusted for inflation in 20 years. Additionally, the costs of right-of-way construction are growing steadily. In this environment, maintenance costs quickly begin crowding out money needed for new upgrades. And with four of the top 20 fastest-growing cities in America, Texas needs a lot of upgrades. A 2009 report notes that Texas needs $4 billion a year in new construction just to keep up.

Tolling provides a more consistent – and flexible – alternative to meeting these long-term costs instead of relying on taxes alone. Not only can tolls help maintain existing roadways, but they can generate funds for other transportation projects. The new MoPac Improvement Project will add significant new capacity to MoPac while preserving the three existing non-tolled lanes for drivers who prefer to use them. And ultimately, the project will generate $230 million for local transportation solutions – that means whether you take the toll lanes or not, you’re likely to benefit from those lanes when they open.

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