NWA-2015-08-13-1-01A permanent toll discount program for semitrailer drivers using SH 130 is gaining traction.

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, filed a bill in the 84th Texas Legislature, which ended in June, to develop a semitrailer toll discount program. Although the bill failed, lawmakers allowed the Texas Department of Transportation to sell surplus land in fiscal years 2015-16 and 2016-17 to pay for the program.

Israel said discussions with TxDOT on July 20 indicate the agency has parcels of land in mind it could sell.

“We worked hard to raise this issue as a safety solution,” she said. “It may not be a congestion solution but it should mitigate safety.”

She said about 20-30 percent of semitrailers using I-35 are not going to Austin, and accidents involving semitrailers typically result in hours-long delays.

“I was the only Central Texas voice on the [House] transportation committee,” Israel said. “I felt like I had a responsibility to not just my district but the Central Texas region to tell that story about safety and congestion.”

TxDOT has completed two successful toll discount programs for truckers in which semitrailer traffic increased by more than 40 percent, TxDOT Chief Financial Officer James Bass said.

Transactions on SH 130 segments 1-4 between Georgetown and SH 45 are also growing. Between September and February, transactions increased by 19 percent compared with the same period in 2013-14, according to TxDOT data. Bass said actual transactions were 9 percent higher than those forecasted.

“Some of it is [attributed to] growth in the SH 130 corridor from economic development,” he said. “People—trucks and passenger vehicles—are choosing it as an option for the I-35 corridor.”

Projects such as the Manor Expressway, which fully opened in May 2014 with direct connectors from Hwy. 290 to SH 130, have contributed to higher toll transactions by offering better access to SH 130, Bass said.

The SH 130 Concession Co. manages segments 5-6 of SH 130 between SH 45 and Seguin northeast of San Antonio. Transactions on this portion increased by almost 17 percent between March 2014 and March 2015, and the company also saw significant growth in 2013.

Chief Operating Officer Matt Pierce said growth in 2014 was impressive because TxDOT did not have a toll discount program on segments 1-4. The concession company benefited from those discounts because most truckers would travel the entire length of SH 130.

The concession company also wants to be more involved in the discussion of regional transportation, he said.

“The need ... still exists for drivers needing an alternative to the heavily congested I-35 between Austin and San Antonio,” Pierce said.

Pierce said access to segments 5-6 could be improved. For that to happen the agency needs to have conversations with the Capital Area and Alamo metropolitan planning organizations—agencies responsible for regional transportation coordination.

“You have multiple [SH 130] connectives in Williamson County and Travis County, but when you get to Hays, Caldwell and Guadalupe [counties] there are no connectors between Buda and San Antonio,” he said.

Funding has not been identified for future connections to SH 130, but Pierce said starting discussions is important.

“With long-distance through traffic, the SH 130 corridor has to be in that discussion,” he said. “We have to look and say, ‘Are we doing everything we can do to incentivize, promote, move and connect people to use SH 130?’”