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Monday, September 29th, 2014

US75 Tolling Discussion with you

Commissioner Chris Hill and I hosted the first tolling townhall this week, and I want to continue the conversation with you as we discuss the need for a permanent expansion/rebuild of US75 in the near future. There are two separate issues: tolling the current HOV lane next year and the future expansion/rebuild.

1. The planned tolling of the current HOV lane on US75 was put on hold by the Texas Transportation Commission at their recent meeting in Dallas. However, it’s only a temporary hold until after the legislative session. The issue will be readdressed around June, 2015, depending on legislative action. Stay tuned.

2. The second major US75 tolling issue is the future permanent expansion/rebuild with a current estimate of $2 billion. If Collin County continues to grow as projected, we must have an extended conversation about how you, the taxpayers, want to fund that $2 billion. However funded, US75 needs major expansion in the decades ahead.

Current regional expectations are that the permanent expansion/rebuild plans will call for adding only 2 additional lanes on US75, which doesn’t seem like enough added capacity and certainly doesn’t seem to justify tolling a major number of lanes.

There seem to be four possible sources of funding:

a. Re-prioritize the State budget. The percentage of the State budget allocated to transportation has dropped over the decades from 33 percent to less than 9 percent. Raising the percentage toward the historic level is crucial. This requires legislative action.

b. Additional State revenues. Several possibilities that we hear discussed are raising the motor fuel tax or raising vehicle registration fees. Each of these requires legislative action.

c. Tolls on all future expansion lanes and the existing HOV lane. The authority to toll requires legislative action.

Eventually the need for expansion will grow so dire that our taxpayers may agree to tolls if no other funding is identified.

d. And of course, local governments could pay a substantial portion of the permanent expansion/rebuild costs on US75, but that would be a huge shift in transportation funding in the State of Texas. If federal and State transportation funding continues on its current trajectory, this may be necessary. This makes it a regional and even State issue, not just a Collin County issue, since that shift would impact the entire region.

3. There is currently no legislative authority to toll US75. Until the legislature grants that authority, the permanent future expansion/rebuild cannot be tolled.

4. The maximum toll rate on the 635/LBJ project is 75 cents per mile during peak periods (after a honeymoon period), but could go higher if traffic projections are not met. By way of contrast, North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) toll roads currently charge a stable rate of about 17 cents per mile.

Under current RTC rules, there will be no free HOV travel on the future permanent expansion/rebuild tolled lanes. This is different than current expectations that HOV travel will continue to be free if the current HOV lane is temporarily tolled for single occupancy vehicles until the permanent solution is built.

Although hard to pin down, it seems that regional policy is that most highway lanes built in the future will be tolled. I just can’t see the current number of free lanes in the region being adequate for ten million people.

If the federal level and State level do not increase transportation funding toward a more historic level, funding requirements could push down to the local level. The Commissioners Court just committed $50 million to the US75 effort, but if the county is required to contribute substantially more to the permanent expansion/rebuild, then US75 and other major highways will be the focus of future county transportation funds.

This is why we need to start this conversation now. Given the toll fatigue in North Texas today, how do we want to fund future highway expansions?

Our legislative delegation will need our support, encouragement, and assistance as they head to Austin in January to attempt to work on transportation funding across the State.

posted by Keith Self on September 29th, 2014 at 7:28 am



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Rick Perry's 2009 State of the State Address, speaking about how Judge Self and his counterparts helped put Collin County's check register online.