The Texas House Transportation Committee heard testimony Thursday morning on HB 361, which was filed July 31 by state Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park. Dale said the bill would require "regional mobility authorities that operate toll roads to have non-tolled access roads adjacent to their existing toll roads before they start any new transportation projects.”
Were the bill to become law, it would impact several projects planned by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which coordinates transportation planning for six counties in Central Texas. The projects include Phase 3 of Toll 183A, the 183 North project and planned flyovers at Hwy. 290 Toll and SH 130.
Committee Chair Geanie Morrison said the bill is not on Gov. Greg Abbott’s list for the special session, but said the committee was "looking at bills that are important to members’ districts" and that HB 361 would be discussed in committee before the next session of the Texas Legislature in 2019.
Dale said some segments along Toll 183A have free access roads while others do not. In particular, he focused on a 1.6-mile segment between Avery Ranch Boulevard and RM 1431 in Cedar Park, which does not have free access roads. Dale said this segment of Toll 183A also cost the highest in tolls.
“When I look at the existing road, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the segment without free access road has the highest tolls on CTRMA’s network,” he said. “From Avery Ranch Boulevard to RM 1431, the toll [is] $1.48 for TxTag customers and $1.97 for pay by mail.”
Dale said this segment makes up 48 percent of the total cost of traveling the length of Toll 183A.
He said people may consider driving along US 183, or Bell Boulevard in Cedar Park, but that the roadway is four miles out of the way for people driving along the toll road.
“In the evening rush hour, dual lanes of traffic stack up at the last free exit in Cedar Park,” he said. “Where I live, people avoid that particular toll gantry and drive through residential neighborhoods which causes complaints from those neighbors as well.”
Dale referenced a letter that multiple cities sent to the authority last year. In November 2016, Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock, Liberty Hill and Williamson County passed a resolution to support a partnership with the CTRMA for financial and staffing engagement for the development of three transportation projects:
- Extending the frontage roads on Toll 183A between Avery Ranch Blvd. and Whitestone Blvd. (RM 1431)
- Designing and constructing Phase 1 of MoKan Expressway between SH 45 and University Blvd.
- Extending Toll 183A to north of Seward Junction (Hwy. 29)
The Mobility Authority’s Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein gave testimony during the committee hearing. He said the bill would impact projects in Dale’s area, including Phase 3 of Toll 183A, which is planned to cross Hwy. 29 in Liberty Hill.
Heiligenstein said the partnership to build Toll 183A started in the 1980s, when the road was supposed to be a non-tolled corridor, but the plan changed over time.
“Cedar Park, Williamson County and the RMA came together and planned and developed 183 fully knowing that the schematic was, there was no hidden schematic,” Heiligenstein said. “There were no hidden roads. It was clearly a joint effort, a partnership with the various folks.”
Heiligenstein said the Avery Ranch portion was left with no access road for a variety of reasons, including the flood plain in the area that it was one of the first sections of the project for a new agency.
Committee members asked for information to be collected on how planned toll roads are analyzed for cost effectiveness to be brought forward when the committee meets in the interim between legislative sessions.