May 23, 2018

Expressway News

Solving the Mobility Puzzle…One Truth at a Time

Here at the Mobility Authority, getting you moving is what keeps us going. We are passionate about connecting Central Texans to everything they love, and our dedicated team works day and night to achieve that goal. Sometimes our mobility solutions include toll projects, sometimes they do not. Our holistic approach considers the needs of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians, encourages the use of public transit, optimizes our overburdened roadway network, and implements projects to expand and create the infrastructure that is so critical to keeping our vibrant region moving. 

Mobilizing the Truth

With a diverse set of mobility needs to serve, tolling is merely one piece of the mobility puzzle; a tool by which timelier infrastructure expansion is made possible. But tolling is also the piece of the puzzle that garners the most public attention, and with that attention comes misconceptions. We know it’s easy to become confused when there is so much misinformation floating around, and we’d like to take the opportunity to provide some clarity and separate fact from fiction. 
We’d like to mobilize the truth about tolling. Here are some key facts about toll roads:

Fact Versus Fiction 
We know the general consensus is that paying tolls is something you’d rather not have to do. But we also know that sitting in traffic really puts a damper on your quality of life. We live amidst some of the most breathtakingly beautiful green spaces, in one of the most dynamic local economies in the nation. The amenities and entertainment options are endless, attracting new residents daily. But worsening traffic congestion continues to impact our ability to enjoy all that our region has to offer. The reality is that the level of taxpayer dollars appropriated by our legislature for transportation needs cannot keep pace with demand. 

Few would deny that Austin traffic just plain sucks. The good news is that we are in the process of implementing meaningful mobility solutions to help get you to your destination faster so you can spend your time doing the things that jumpstart your lives rather than staring at brake lights. 

Why Tolling 
Our local agency is overseen by a board of appointed volunteers and is accountable to the communities we serve. So, we’re truly in this traffic mess together. We simply cannot do nothing. 

But why tolls? Simply put, tolls enable more expedient financing of construction costs, allowing for much faster construction than under the traditional, taxpayer-funded, pay-as-you-go model. So, we don’t have to wait decades to build the roads we needed yesterday. While some would argue otherwise, tolling is not a tax. It’s a user fee collected in exchange for a service. If you don’t use the toll road, you don’t have to pay for it, and pursuant to state law, we never convert a free lane into a tolled lane. We strive to preserve and upgrade the adjacent non-tolled lanes as part of any tolled expressway project, improving the user experience for all drivers. Even bicyclists and pedestrians benefit from our multimodal enhancements. 

The fact is there are no free roads. There are only toll roads and tax-supported roads. The main difference is that you only pay for a toll road when you choose to drive on it, while all taxpayers contribute to tax-supported roadways, even the ones they never use. 

Keeping Revenue Local 
Tolls also allow us to reinvest on our region. When a project is complete, the toll revenue collected stays local, covering routine maintenance of the new facility, as well as future infrastructure expansion. Any public funding we do receive for a toll project, such as grants or government loans, helps pay for the non-tolled elements which include expanded and upgraded non-tolled lanes, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and trailheads.

Improving Your Commute
In addition to providing drivers with an alternative travel option, toll roads offer a safer and more reliable travel experience, cutting commute times on both the tolled and non-tolled lanes. We’ve also embraced technology to make the toll payment process more convenient for our customers. We use all-electronic tolling, meaning tolls are collected without drivers having to stop, slow down or stay in a given lane. And we know that with multiple toll agencies issuing bills in Central Texas (TxDOT owns and operates SH 45, SH 130 and Loop 1), we realize that paying tolls can be confusing. In response to user feedback, we recently revamped our toll bills and redesigned our website, and are constantly looking for new ways to improve the user experience.  

A Community Approach to Transportation Planning
We also encounter the question of who decides which roads are tolled, and which ones are non-tolled. This is a great question. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is responsible for developing both short- and long-range transportation plans for our region. These plans identify priority projects, and determine funding plans based on available financing. Only when the Mobility Authority is asked by CAMPO to build a toll project do we take it on. No entity can build roads that are not a part of the regional plan. 

And before any dirt is turned or a single blade of grass is disturbed, we conduct robust environmental studies to evaluate the effects of a potential project on the human and natural environment. We know that communities make projects better. As such, we proactively seek out feedback in order to learn the needs and expectations of the public before breaking ground. Our exhaustive research is conducted in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, which requires meaningful public involvement in transportation planning and ensures that our natural resources are balanced with new infrastructure development.

Moving Forward  
Until the legislature allocates sufficient public funding for all of our infrastructure needs, tolls are helping to meet the growing mobility demands of the traveling public.