After county commissioners failed to move on the issue in May of last year, County Judge Mark Keough brought the topic of removal to an April court session. Keough said the roads are both overwhelmingly unpopular and now create congestion around the area’s medical hub as drivers clog adjacent service roads to avoid tolling.
“By removing the tolls, I believe we’ll be able to remove much of the traffic jam that is there,” Keough said at the April 9 meeting.
Commissioners at the April meeting were generally in favor of taking out the tolls, but expressed concern over whether the county or TxDOT would end up with liability for the maintenance of the flyovers after removal. Commissioners also questioned whether removal could affect either the construction of a third flyover planned at the junction, or the county’s $17.4 million in pass-through toll revenue expected from TxDOT late this year.
Commissioners voted 3-2 against removal due to the uncertainty surrounding the measure at the time, but Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack announced in an April 18 statement that he expects “a clear path to removal” of the tolls after consulting with a TxDOT engineer.
TxDOT said in late April that removal discussions were ongoing, “but no decision has been made at this point,” according to spokesperson Emily Black.
Noack’s office said in the statement that the county would not need TxDOT’s approval to get rid of the tolls, and that future projects and revenue would not be affected. Noack’s office said in April it was still awaiting an answer from TxDOT regarding maintenance responsibilities.
“Commissioner Noack has confirmed with TXDOT what I have been saying from the beginning of the conversation. TXDOT will assume maintenance of the 242 flyovers if we remove the tolls,” Keough said in an email. “What has also been re-affirmed is that future road projects will not be in jeopardy if the tolling ceases.”
The $34 million flyovers, which opened in 2015, are the product of a bond package approved by voters in 2005. The county bonds initially paid for the ramps using pass-through financing, in which local jurisdictions fund relevant state highway projects upfront and are later repaid by tolling and TxDOT. The transportation department has since sent the county nearly $118 million in pass-through program dollars, and will pay an additional $56.47 million in the coming years, according to Noack's office.
Keough said the tolls generate an estimated $1.3 million annually, which was sent to the Montgomery County Toll Road Authority rather than the county itself. Collecting the funds for a third flyover through the current tolling system could take over a decade, and Keough said he believes that money from outside the county should fund work on the state and federal roadways.
“The revenue generated from the flyovers generates a fraction of what is needed to solve our mobility problem,” he said. “However we get there, the removal of the tolls at 242 is a victory for the citizens of Montgomery County.”