Saturday, September 17, 2005

Many motorists say toll roads are hard to swallow.

State surveys drivers on tolls


Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

There's no point in building toll roads if nobody uses them, which is why state officials began a survey this week to figure out just how much motorists are willing to shell out.

Would drivers pay $1.70 to cut a half-hour commute on North Loop 1604 in half? How about $3.40 to shave time? Or a whopping $6.80?

Would they share a ride with one or two other people to get either a discount or pay nothing to use toll lanes?

Those are some of the questions being asked by the Texas Department of Transportation in a two-week survey that began Monday.

"It sort of hones in on what folks are willing to pay," said Julia Brown, TxDOT's deputy engineer in San Antonio.

TxDOT, maybe through a private consortium, plans to start building 47 miles of toll lanes next year on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281 on the North Side and open them by 2011.

Studies so far indicate that tolls could be 12 to 16 cents a mile.

The survey, which officials say is scientifically based, targets Loop 1604 travelers. Another will be done for U.S. 281.

"This survey will help improve the transportation system in our community," promises a mail-back card being handed to drivers stopped at red lights on Loop 1604 frontage roads. Police are on hand at distribution sites to supervise.

The card asks about travel habits, but a more detailed survey to test attitudes about toll rates vs. savings in driving time will be done next week by e-mail, the Web and at businesses such as gas stations, truck stops, Rolling Oaks Mall, San Antonio International Airport and Randolph AFB.

In a separate polling effort, the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which may take over control of toll roads here, had a polling company put in calls to 500 Bexar County residents this week to gauge attitudes about tolling.

They were asked about traffic congestion and ways to address it, such as paying tolls or higher gas taxes, property taxes or sales taxes, said mobility authority Director Tom Griebel.

"We're trying to get a community-wide sense of how people feel," he said.

Also, a focus group of about a dozen people who live and work near Loop 1604 were questioned a couple of weeks ago as part of the authority's effort.

Results are due later this month, Griebel said.

Many motorists say toll roads are hard to swallow.

A 2004 University of Texas study shows that a majority of Texans oppose toll roads but hate gas taxes even more. In San Antonio, only a fourth of respondents even knew about proposed toll plans here.

And a 2003 University of Houston survey has nearly two out of three Texans saying that state spending on highway building and maintenance should be cut.

San Antonio Express-News: