US 183 toll project moving forward hinges on direction from state leaders

The fate of the US 183 North toll project hinges on guidance from the Texas Transportation Commission, which is the governing body of the Texas Department of Transportation.

The fate of the US 183 North toll project hinges on guidance from the Texas Transportation Commission, which is the governing body of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Image description
US 183 toll project moving forward hinges on direction from state leaders
Image description
US 183 toll project moving forward hinges on direction from state leaders
Image description
US 183 toll project moving forward hinges on direction from state leaders
Leadership resistance to building state-run toll roads in Texas could have an impact on how one proposed Northwest Austin toll project could proceed.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, which oversaw the MoPac express lanes and Toll 183A projects, is proposing to add two toll lanes on US 183 between Toll 183A and MoPac.

The Texas Department of Transportation had planned to fund a continuous fourth nontolled lane to fix an imbalance in the number of existing nontolled lanes that switches between three and four in each direction along US 183.

However, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made it clear to TxDOT in November that money from voter-approved state propositions 1 and 7 could not be used on projects that have a tolled element. The department subsequently retreated on its plan to fund the nontolled lane using propositions 1 and 7 money, leaving the proposed project currently unfunded.

“TxDOT thought they had adequately walled that off from being confused with tolling, so that piece is unknown,” Mobility Authority Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein said. “We don’t need that piece to move forward.”

But whether that project would move forward without the key piece from TxDOT relies on support from the Texas Transportation Commission, the  governing body for TxDOT.

Toll road toss up


On Dec. 14 the commission approved an amendment to the 2018 Unified Transportation Program​, which​ is the state’s 10-year planning document, that did not include any projects with tolled elements—including the four proposed managed toll lanes on I-35.

Two months earlier in October the commission approved an agreement with the Mobility Authority that outlined how TxDOT would fund the fourth nontolled lane on US 183 with $120 million in propositions 1 and 7 money and oversee design and construction.

Now that the commission agreed to remove all tolled proposals from the 2018 state transportation plan without guidance on the US 183 North project, Heiligenstein said the Mobility Authority will wait on the commission before proceeding with the project.

Pending direction from the commission, construction on the $380 million US 183 North toll project could begin in 2019. TxDOT could come back later to fund the nontolled lane, but the status of that decision is unknown, according to a TxDOT representative.

Financing maneuver


Voters approved propositions 1 and 7 in 2014 and 2015, respectively, that both divert more funding to state roadways. The Texas Legislature this year added a caveat that these funds could not be used on toll roads.

TxDOT, however, attempted to use this funding on nontolled elements, such as on the US 183 North project. For I-35, TxDOT is currently using money from propositions 1 and 7 to complete standalone projects along I-35. In October the department proposed adding two toll lanes in each direction to I-35 between RM 1431 in Round Rock and SH 45 SE near Buda.

That proposal did not sit well with some area politicians and residents who are against using TxDOT funding and voter-approved money on toll projects.

“There are additional dollars needed, but when you look at what’s happening in Texas cities, they are being surrounded and divided by toll roads,” said state Rep. Tony Dale, whose 136th district includes the Williamson County portion of Austin. “Most states have turnpike systems that connect cities. Houston, Dallas and Austin are surrounded by toll roads.”

Terri Hall, the director for Texans for Toll-Free Highways, a statewide political action committee based in San Antonio, said the issue with using propositions 1 and 7 dollars on nontolled elements is the nontolled and tolled elements are evaluated environmentally under one study.

“TxDOT is using gas tax, bond money, using every source of funding to fund roads, so we have double and triple taxation on these toll roads,” she said. “That’s a big rub for taxpayers.”

Hall said TxDOT could do better at choosing road projects to fund by identifying only the critical projects to receive money from propositions 1 and 7. She said she does not believe that TxDOT needs more funding.

“This is just a tactic by the agency,” she said. “TxDOT is spending lots of money on transportation. The problem is they are not directing funds where they need to go.”

Future of toll roads


TxDOT also has not announced yet how the commission’s state transportation plan amendment will affect proposed projects on I-35 or US 183.

“It’s a battle that we’re in to make sure [TxDOT is] not going to pull the plug on these projects but go back to the drawing board and reprioritize the projects in the [transportation] plan today so the most congested roads like I-35 and [US] 183 can get built without tolls,” Hall said.

With the exception of the Mobility Authority’s projects on MoPac South and Oak Hill Parkway, Heiligenstein said most other agency projects likely would not be affected by any loss of TxDOT funding for nontolled elements. Heiligenstein said he also remains confident the Mobility Authority’s growing toll system will better enable the agency to finance projects in the future.

“At some point there will be enough critical mass that we’ll be able to look out in front of us,” he said.
By Amy Denney

Managing Editor, Austin metro

Amy has worked for Community Impact Newspaper since September 2010, serving as reporter and later senior editor for the Northwest Austin edition as well as covering transportation in the Austin metro. She is now managing editor for the 10 publications in the Central Texas area from Georgetown to New Braunfels.



MOST RECENT

The widening project is on track to finish this fall and the bypass project by early next year. (Courtesy Texas Department of Transportation)
TxDOT projects near RM 2222 and RM 620 intersection approaching completion after delay

The southbound bypass lane connecting the two roads is on track to be complete later this fall, weather permitting. The northbound bypass lane opened over the summer.

Barkin' Creek Domain Northside
Barkin’ Creek sets up shop in Domain Northside

The dog spa and pet supply store offers bath and grooming services alongside its signature homemade dog food.

New homes in North Austin
Northwest Austin housing market continues to cool after early summer peak

The median price of homes in Northwest Austin dropped by more than 7% from its summer peak in June.

The Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission considered a finalized draft of an updated map for Austin's 10 City Council districts Sept. 15. (Ben Thompson/Community Impact Newspaper)
UPDATED: Draft map of Austin's redrawn City Council boundaries ready for community review

Volunteer city redistricting commissioners have unanimously passed an initial outline to update all 10 City Council districts set to go into effect next year.

Photo of a sign in a field
3 weeks before first weekend, ACL Music Festival awaits permit, final health and safety procedures

Austin City Limits Music Festival has not yet received a permit for its multiweekend music festival, but the city of Austin said this is a normal timeline.

A Texas Education Agency Monitor has been installed at Round Rock ISD as part of a corrective action plan stemming from a complaint lodged against the board during the 2018-19 school year. (Brooke Sjoberg/Community Impact Newspaper)
TEA installs monitor for Round Rock ISD, citing 2019 complaint against former board president

A Texas Education Agency Monitor has been installed at Round Rock ISD as part of a corrective action plan stemming from a complaint lodged against the board during the 2018-19 school year. 

The Austin Transit Partnership approved a $312.8 million budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. (Benton Graham/Community Impact)
Project Connect’s $312.8M budget receives approval for FY 2021-22

The budget will largely be spent on advancing the 30% designs for the Orange and Blue MetroRail lines.

The Davis/White Park trail will be improved through the Neighborhood Partnering Program. (Courtesy Austin Public Works Department)
City of Austin selects 4 neighborhood improvement projects to assist

The Austin Public Works department has helped complete more than 70 local neighborhood improvement projects in the last 10 years.

Closed sign
Children’s clothing retailer Carter’s closing North Austin store

Carter's is closing its store at The Shops at Arbor Walk before the end of September.

The Shade Store
Home design business The Shade Store opens new North Austin location

The Shade Store sells custom shades, blinds and draperies.

The Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees met Sept. 14 to discuss several items of interest, including a mask matrix. (Courtesy Round Rock ISD)
Round Rock ISD tables mask matrix discussion for Sept. 18 meeting

Currently, the district has in place a mask mandate which requires masks to be worn indoors on its campuses, with exemptions allowed on a case-by-case basis. With this mandate set to expire Sept. 17, the board was set to consider a mask matrix option, to allow for on-campus mask requirements to be tied to stages and colors based off the systems implemented by Williamson and Travis Counties.