State leaders, drivers react to potential toll lanes on I-35

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made a strong statement to TxDOT, asking the agency to reconsider adding any tolled lanes.

AUSTIN - The conversation continues after our Boomtown Live Doc, many chiming in about how Austin is managing its exponential growth. A common complaint -- traffic -- and plans to add toll lanes to more of Austin's main highways. 

Among those plans, an $8 billion proposal to put toll lanes on Interstate Highway 35 through the heart of Austin.

However, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick made a strong statement to the Texas Department of Transportation, asking them to re-consider adding any tolled lanes, Thursday.

"I oppose adding any additional toll lanes to TxDOT’s UTP," he said. "I fought against increasing the state’s reliance on toll roads as a state senator and I have continued that fight as lieutenant governor. The Texas Legislature worked hard to pass Proposition 7 in 2015 to provide billions in funding for transportation infrastructure to help eliminate the state’s need for additional toll roads. Eliminating the need for tolls was one of the primary reasons the Texas Legislature passed Prop 7 and why Texas voters approved it. No new toll roads have been approved by the Senate or the House in the last two sessions, and legislators I have spoken with are very unhappy that the Commission seems now to be going in a direction that opposes the will of the legislature and the majority of Texans."

State Representative Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park) agrees with Patrick, saying "many of the other states are using tolls on longer stretches of road that goes between states," such as Florida, but it seems here tolls are "surrounding everyday people." He also says many of the complaints he has heard are related to billing.

"Maybe the first time you get a bill, there's a fine associated with it, and they try to make a phone call to get it resolved and they have a hard time getting good customer service," he said. "I don't think that's acceptable and I have great concerns about adding new toll roads when we can't manage the ones we have properly already."

Tx DOT says:

“Members of the Texas Transportation Commission and TxDOT staff have been in regular contact with the Governor’s office over the past several weeks and we understand the governor’s expressed desire to not include new toll roads. On October 25th, the Texas Transportation Commission held a briefing in Austin on 17 potential major projects in the state that were developed locally and brought forward by area Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) so the Commission could be better informed. No action was planned or taken by the Texas Transportation Commission at this meeting.

"Separate and apart from last month’s briefing we are in the public comment period for the 2018 Unified Transportation Program (UTP) update. In response to public comments received, we are developing a plan to scrub the UTP update of any toll roads in the proposed revisions.”  

J. Bruce Bugg Jr., chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, said, “The Texas Transportation Commission fully understands and is committed to continue to use the funding from Proposition 1 and Proposition 7 for non-tolled projects.”

Drivers KVUE’s Nicole Rosales spoke to had mixed feelings, some saying tolls on I-35 would help congestion.

Driver Keith Aurdada has been an avid Toll Tag user for more than a decade. 

"35 is uniformly horrible," he said. "I think a tollway here would be a good idea. If it’s a good road and it saves me some time, then it's worth it.”

The toll lanes proposed on I-35 would be similar to MoPac's single express lane, it would stretch 33 miles from RM 1431 in Round Rock to SH 45 Southeast near Buda. 

For rideshare driver Everett Swain, he avoids using express lanes. He said drivers should be able to commute easily using regular routes, that the improvements shouldn't come with a price tag.

“Maybe when you get to Oltorf -- maybe Woodward -- it eases back up, but coming in from Airport Boulevard to get to there on 35 is terrible," he said. "I work for Lyft and Uber and I make sure I’m out of downtown by 2:30.” 

Governor Greg Abbott says TxDOT is doing well by building more roads to unclog congestion, and they have the resources to continue the work -- without adding tolls to the mix.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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