An effort to implement a permanent discount for semitrailers on SH 130 failed in the last legislature, but the governing board for the Texas Department of Transportation approved another temporary discount March 31.

The Texas Transportation Commission approved discounting toll rates for semitrailers that use SH 130 between Georgetown and SH 45 SE as well as on SH 45 SE, which connects I-35 and SH 130.

During the 84th Texas Legislature, state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, whose district covers North Austin and Pflugerville, attempted to pass HB 594, but the bill never made it to the House floor. Instead, the legislature approved a budget rider for a temporary discount through the sale of surplus property.

“While this item is not the silver bullet, it is one more tool to increase mobility in our urban core,” she told the Texas Transportation Commission on March 31.

Israel, whose father was a truck driver, said the state could find funding for better use of SH 130 but until then this discount would provide more relief to Central Texas travelers.

“Funding to reduce the tolls on the TxDOT portion of SH 130 and SH 45 SE represents a concrete action to improve congestion without requiring more concrete,” she said.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, also was supportive of the temporary program because it represented an “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to congestion relief on I-35. TxDOT also completed two pilot programs offering discounts to truck drivers, and Watson said that program was successful.

“The pilot project revealed to us in fact there was an ability to incentivize truck drivers that didn’t have business on or near I-35 in those two counties to move over,” he said. “We actually saw a reduction in the number of trucks in that area.”

Toll discounts

The temporary program on SH 130 and SH 45 SE will be split into two phases. The first phase runs April 18-Oct. 31 on Monday through Friday from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Semitrucks with more than three axels will only pay the three-axle rate.

Phase 2 begins Nov. 1 through Aug. 31, 2017, and in that phase all vehicles will pay the two-axle rate. The regular cost for a semitrailer is about $24, TxDOT Executive Director James Bass said. During Phase 1, that rate drops to about $16 and drops to about $8 in Phase 2, he said.

“This opportunity basically provides the discount as long as the monies are available,” Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley said. “It’s designed at the point we no longer have the fund the rates return back.”

John Esparza, president of the Texas Trucking Association, said the industry is split on who pays the tolls. About 50 percent of the industry are owner/operators who pay the tolls themselves and the other half are shipping companies that pay the tolls.

Esparza said he appreciated the commission asking for input from the association and that the TTA would work with TxDOT to promote the program.

“A less congested road is a safer road, and that’s the way the industry looks at it,” he said.

Don Dixon, who works in the manufacturing industry, said tolls are a deterrent to a roadway.

“My hope … is find a way to eliminate tolls completely on SH 130 from Seguin all the way to Georgetown,” he said. “Then you don’t have to make choices. You don’t have to go to the legislature to get money.”