Toll rate increases stir up debate at Central Texas mobility agency

Toll 183A

Toll 183A

Two proposals to increase toll rates on some area toll roads were met with hesitation by a few board members from the Central Texas agency that oversees toll facilities.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority usually increases toll rates each Jan. 1 based on the Consumer Price Index increase, which is 1.7%. Agency staffers proposed increasing rates by $0.01 to $0.03 per toll gantry to board members Oct. 30. The agency manages Toll 183A, Toll 290, SH 71, SH 45 SW, MoPac express lanes and Toll 183 South.

Ultimately, the board opted not to take action on any changes to the proposed staff-recommended increases. This means the toll rate increases will move forward as planned starting Jan. 1. The rates will remain the same on SH 45 SW and Toll 183 South. The board could still consider changing the staff recommendation at its Nov. 20 meeting.

The board also did not take action on changing its policy for increasing the base toll rate on the MoPac express lanes. The agency’s policy states it will increase by $0.05 per segment every year until the base rate reaches $0.50. The base rate will increase to $0.35 per segment Jan. 1.

Toll 183A

Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said the agency has had conversations over the past couple of years about how to make toll rates on Toll 183A more equitable.

The Park Street toll plaza in Cedar Park has the highest rate in the agency’s system and is currently $1.54 for TxTag users or $2.31 for pay by mail. Drivers who enter Toll 183A at RM 1431 or Brushy Creek Road and take the next exit pay the same rate as someone who travels a much longer distance. The rate would increase to $1.57 on Jan. 1.

“Without [revenues from the] Park Street [toll gantry], we couldn’t have built [Toll] 290, he said. “The toll rate per mile there is significantly higher. Without that gantry there would be no RMA as we know it. This is an opportunity for us to readjust that.”

Board member Mark Ayotte, a Cedar Park resident, agreed and proposed moving the $0.03 increase elsewhere in the system and freezing the rate at Park.

“It doesn’t change the revenue model,” he said. “It’s just moving pennies around in the system.”

Mobilty Authority staffers recommended, based on analysis from traffic consultants, increasing the rate at three other toll plazas to make up an estimated $2.1 million in lost revenue: an additional $0.02 at Crystal Falls Parkway to $1.13, an additional penny at Lakeline Boulevard to $0.59 and an additional $0.02 at Giles Lane on Toll 290 to $1.22.

“Now we have a large enough system, and you’re talking one or two pennies, and it would at least show some consideration for the situation we have [at Park],” Heiligenstein said.

However, board member David Singleton said he was not comfortable with shifting the burden of increased rates to drivers passing through the Crystal Falls toll plaza.

“It kind of undoes what we’ve been trying to accomplish,” he said. “We’ve always tried to be fair across the board.”

Drivers wanting to bypass the Park plaza, however, will have relief in a few years. In May, the Texas Department of Transportation was awarded $75 million in funding to add the missing frontage roads to Toll 183A between RM 1431 and Brushy Creek. Heiligenstein said that project could open in 2021-22.

MoPac base toll

When the US 183 North toll project opens in 2025, the base toll rate per segment is proposed to be $0.50, Chief Financial Officer Bill Chapman said. The agency’s policy has been to increase the base rate in the MoPac express lanes incrementally each year instead of all at once, he said. The original base toll rate was $0.25 per segment.

“They will be connected roadways, and we’re trying to keep the rate policy the same for the minimum rate,” Chapman said.

Board member John Langmore and Heiligenstein both favored freezing the rate for a year.

“I have heard this more than a few times when [the base rate] went up a nickel that did resonate; [drivers] did notice,” Heiligenstein said.

The motion to change the policy failed, however, and the rate will increase Jan. 1.
By Amy Denney

Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.


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