Houston TX area toll rates rising Sept 8 by average 10 percent

August 24, 2012

2012-08-24: Most toll rates on the 120 mile Houston area toll system operated by Harris County Toll Road Authority (HCTRA) are rising September 8. Mainline toll rates with the EZ TAG transponders will got up a dime to $1.40 (about 8% higher) while cash toll rates go up a quarter from $1.50 to $1.75 (a 17% increase) for cars.

The cash toll premium becomes 35c or 25% over the transponder toll rate versus the present 20c or 15% premium now.

There were previous toll cash rate increases in 2003 and 2007 each a  25c increase from a $1.00 toll that prevailed for years. EZ TAG transponder tolls were $1.25 in 2007 and have crept up a little each year roughly in line with the increase in consumer prices.

In 2007 county commissioners adopted a general policy of annual toll rate adjustments related to the regional consumer price index. The cash rates are rounded to the nearest quarter so remained stuck at $1.50 until this year.  

There are corresponding multi-axle toll increases and increases in rates on some ramps. Tolls on the Ship Channel Bridge on the eastern leg of the Sam Houston remain unchanged.

Katy managed lanes tolls up 25%

Peakhour tolls on the Katy Manager Lanes - premium travel lanes in the I-10 Katy Freeway from  the inner belt I-610 out west - will rise $1.00 to $5.00. Shoulder peak toll rates go from $2.00 to 2.50, and afternoon 'peak' rates are moved an hour earlier westbound than now (4pm to 6pm vs 5pm to 7pm now.)

The 25% increase is designed of course to winnow sufficient peak traffic out of the premium lanes to maintain premium service levels. Off-peak rates remain unchanged at 40c.

"To support continued improvements..."

Harris County Toll Road Authority links the toll increases to continued improvement of their network, mentioning:

- widening the Sam Houston Tollway from 2 lanes each direction to 4 lanes per direction US59 South to SH288, later extending the 2x4 lanes to I-45, with a 5th or auxiliary lane on-ramp to next off-ramp in selected segments  (counterclockwise south of Houston)

- in collaboration with TXDOT rebuilding US290 adding both free and toll-managed lanes (radial to the northwest)

- SH249 or Tomball Tollway, Spring Cypress Rd to Spring Creek (another radial route to the northwest)

- the Hardy Downtown Connector from its present southern end at I-610 to I-10 and the downtown

- northward widening of the Hardy to the new Grand Central Parkway

- new direct connector ramps at the big interchanges of the Sam Houston with the Hardy and with SH249

Development spills out of Harris Co

Development in the Houston area increasingly expands beyond the boundaries of Harris County into Fort Bend, Brazoria, Liberty, Montgomery and other surrounding counties and new projects are being initiated there.

Ft Bend Co is active with its own tollroads and TXDOT is doing reconstruction and widening of SH288, a southern radial with a mix of toll and free lanes.

A third great loop around the Houston area, the Grand Central Parkway is under way.

(Actually 'box' could be a better term because Houston's so-called 'loops' are almost square in shape and the terms belt and loop evoke the sense of a circle.)

T&R essentials:

In the 2011 fiscal year toll revenues of HCTRA were $481m up 5.7% on 2010. Of expenses of $363m the largest category was interest of $126m on debt., depreciation and amortization $90m, services $80m, salaries $51m.

Traffic as measured by toll transactions was 381m in 2011 suggesting an average toll of $1.26. Traffic peaked at 376m in 2008, dropped to 354m in 2009 with the financial crisis and recession, recovered to 371m in 2010 and set a new record in 2011 at 381m. But the system exapnded in the meantime. The Katy Managed Lanes opened and account for 14m trips. Subtracting those to measure traffic on the 2008 network gives you 367m still below (-2.4%) the 2008 level.

Traffic is just over a million tolls a day.

286.5m or 75% of the tolls are collected on the 70 mile long Sam Houston Tollway including the Ship Channel bridge or 780k/day average making it one of the most heavily traveled int he country.

37.4m are the Hardy, 39.5m the Westpark Tollway, 14.2m the Katy Managed Lanes, 3.1m a small Harris Co spur to the Ft Bend Parkway (mostly in neighboring Ft Bend Co.)

Tax funded improvements divert traffic from pikes

HCTRA annual financial report notes that improvements and expansions of untolled roads using tax revenues adversely affect the tollroads in the area.

TXDOT's use of tax funding for I-45 and US59 are singled out for comment. I-45 in particular has attracted traffic away from the Hardy Toll Road - with improvements between the Sam Houston and FM1940.

Brief timeline

1983 Harris County Toll Road Authority established by county commission and county voters authorize issue of $900m in toll revenue bonds

1987 Hardy TR first segment opened

1990 Sam Houston Tollway West first segment opened

1994 Houston Ship Channel Toll Bridge acquired from Texas Turnpike Authority

2004 Westpark Tollway the first all-electronic TR in the country opened

2009 Katy Freeway Toll Managed Lanes opened

Harris county had 4.1m pop according to the 2010 census making it third in the US after LA county CA and Cook Co IL.  In population Houston is the fastest growing major metro area in the country.


TOLLROADSnews 2012-08-24

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