Tom Warne Report, 8 April 2013
Several bills proposed by Texas lawmakers seek to reduce congestion and limit the expansion of toll roads. The first measure would halt tolls on state Highway 130, which opened last fall. The state paid to build the road from south of Austin to Georgetown with bonds, but a private company was contracted to finish the southern portion of the toll road.
Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, said his bill is designed to ensure drivers a “free ride” by turning the 90-mile toll road into I-35 East. He said the conversion would also help ease the gridlock on I-35 between Austin and San Antonio. Workman proposed using $1.5 billion from the state’s “rainy day” fund to buy the roadway, but the deal depends on $1.5 billion in matching federal funds. The state could then buy the 41-mile portion of the road between Austin and Seguin, which opened last October and cost $1.4 billion.The state signed a 50-year lease for the toll road, which allows a speed limit of 85 mph.
The Senate Transportation Committee is also considering other bills to put restrictions on the growth of toll roads throughout the state. One proposal – SB1029 – prohibits converting existing roadways into tollways, as current law allows. Another measure would forbid the state from lowering speeds on free, alternate routes near toll roads unless engineering work supported the change. SB1253 was inspired by the recent lowering of speed limits on SH 183 from 65 mph to 55 mph when toll road SH 130 opened adjacent to the route, with speeds posted at 85 mph.