Why does the Mobility Authority build toll roads?

The Mobility Authority’s mission is to implement innovative, multi-modal transportation solutions that reduce congestion and create transportation choices that enhance quality of life and economic vitality. It is our mission to work on solutions to solve the mobility crisis in Central Texas.

New toll roads and lanes in Central Texas have been projects identified for decades as part of the region’s transportation plans, but have never been funded. We need more capacity on existing roads and need to build new roads where possible. Today, Central Texans do much of their driving on roads that were built years ago. For example, major highways like I-35 and MoPac have not been updated in decades, and the region’s growth has been so fast that the road network hasn't kept up. We need to build the next generation of highway projects now to serve the region as it continues to grow.

With toll funding, we can build toll projects more quickly than under the traditional gas-tax-funded, pay-as-you-go system, because toll projects receive full funding commitments prior to construction start.

We also need to build those projects before it's too late – while right-of-way is still affordable and before corridors are developed and would require displacing and disrupting businesses, homes or schools.

We also build more than toll roads. As part of each of our projects, we build bike and pedestrian facilities in the corridor, giving motorists and neighbors multi-modal options. We also upgrade the existing corridor with aesthetics and improved non-tolled travel lanes. Only new lanes that we build are tolled; the same number of taxpayer-funded, non-tolled travel lanes that are available today will remain after we are finished with construction. Toll financing helps pay for these added improvements.

Isn’t tolling just another tax?

No. Tolling is a voluntary user fee paid by customers (commuters) for a service when they need it. Paying taxes is not a choice. Drivers have the option to pay tolls or take alternate routes while taxes are mandatory and charged to everyone.

Without the ability to use tolling as a funding source, local and state agencies must rely on existing or increased tax-funded sources. Again, gas tax as a funding source has remained static since 1991 even though fuel costs have risen.

What is Mobility Authority’s role in the regional transportation planning process?

The Mobility Authority does not determine which roads to build. The Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) develops a long-range transportation plan for the region, prioritizes projects, estimates cost per project, and determines the most viable funding options on a case-by-case basis. All Mobility Authority projects begin as recommendations in the CAMPO plan. These projects are usually long-term projects, which can be done more quickly through a tolled option.

Can toll road authorities just decide if and where toll roads are built?

Toll Road Authorities execute regional plans that have been developed by Metropolitan Planning Organizations. No entity can build roads that are not a part of the regional plan. In addition, the MPOs decide what roads will be tolled or not. Based on what financing is available, no road can be tolled without it being in the regional plan as a tolled road.

Why not remove tolls once the projects are paid off? Is road maintenance really that expensive?

As the state or local communities pay off the debt associated with new toll facilities, toll rates could be lowered or eliminated entirely. But in reality, roads are never really paid off. Use of roadways degrades them, and maintenance is always ongoing. In fact, the cost of maintenance over time is greater than the initial cost of building the road. A continuous funding stream is needed to maintain the road, and this can only be paid through increased taxes or tolls.

Because the state’s transportation tax revenue barely covers existing highway maintenance, it is difficult for the system to absorb new road maintenance. Additionally, surplus revenue from toll transactions can be used to build and enhance future transportation infrastructure. As more roads are built, a greater share of available funding goes to maintenance.

How will toll roads benefit Texans?

The current mobility crisis in Texas is bad for everyone – bad for the environment, for the economy, for public safety, and for quality of our life. All new roads, including those that are tolled, give drivers more choices and allow them to spend less time on the road. A more efficient road network also helps with improving air quality.

Toll roads will also reduce the threats to public safety now caused by crowded highways and cut-through traffic in neighborhoods.

Will "free" or existing roads be converted to toll roads?

No. Texas state law prohibits adding tolls to existing, taxpayer-funded roadways. While many of the new toll roads are to be constructed in existing highway corridors, the existing capacity must be preserved or enhanced. The toll roads will be built in the middle of or alongside the existing roadway, which will remain non-tolled.

What measures are in place to minimize congestion on the frontage roads so that people are not forced to take toll roads?

The job of toll entities is to improve the flow of traffic. Whether it's a toll road or a frontage road, our mission is to keep traffic moving. When congestion is heavy, less traffic diverts from the toll roads. When capacity is available on the general purpose lanes (frontage roads), more drivers take the general purpose lanes. When toll agencies are implementing projects, we have to follow the Metropolitan Planning Organization’s long range plan which includes forecasts for traffic growth 20-30 years into the future. In addition, toll agencies conduct annual safety and congestion assessments to determine if any concerns need to be addressed.

What oversight exists for toll road entities?

There is extensive oversight required of toll entities. Numerous audits and reports are generated to help ensure accountability to the regions they serve and to the state of Texas. Many of these reports are required by federal, state and local regulatory entities. In addition, many toll entities provide expansive reporting above and beyond what is required as an additional commitment to transparency. As evidence, Texas A&M Transportation Institute has cited the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority as a standard for transparency and accountability and encourages others to follow its lead.

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