Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Toll road steering committee hears angry comments from residents

Phase 2 Toll Road Discussion Heating Up

Nov 28, 2006

KXAN NBC (Austin)
Copyright 2006

With one set up and running, attention is now turning to the next proposed phase of toll roads in Central Texas.

Tuesday night was one of several public meetings leading up to a final vote by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Some people are raising a fairness issue.

Highway 183 running through East Austin would be among five sections of roads that would get tolled under the CAMPO plan.

Many people at Tuesday night's meeting questioned whether residents near some of those roads would be able to afford to use them.

To try and put more dents in roadway congestion, regional transportation planners see tolls as a way to answer problems quickly as the population continues to grow.

"If there are toll roads, there's more money available to build them earlier. If they're not toll roads, it takes a lot longer to build them," CAMPO Executive Director Mike Aulick said.

So under the proposal to build tolled expressways, these areas are getting considered: The Y in Oak Hill and SH-45 South, both of which are west of I-35. Then there's Highway 71 from I-35 towards the airport, 183 in East Austin, and finally a section of 290 towards Manor.

But a toll road steering committee heard some angry comments from some residents during a public comment period.

"Primarily everything east of I-35 is going to get tolled at some point in time. So we're looking at the people who live in that area are the ones who are going to take on the burden of having to pay for new roads in the city. And they're the ones who can afford it the least," East Austin Resident Richard Franklin said.

They're also concerned they could end up paying tolls on some road sections already built with public tax money.

"And that's a real issue for us," Franklin said.

One example is on 183 between I-35 and 290, where drivers zip through the new section without dealing with any traffic lights.

CAMPO says nothing's set in stone, and there may be alternatives to tolling every part of the next toll road phase.

"Managed lanes are the concept that's being discussed by the consultant, which means two lanes reserved for buses and people who pay a toll and express lanes in the middle," Aulick said.

Highway 71 between I-35 and Riverside Drive, close to the airport, is another section of the Phase Two Toll Plan that's already under construction using tax money.

CAMPO plans on holding several open houses in December and January.

This debate over the Y in Oak Hill has been going on since about 2000.

Right now, there is an environmental study underway to determine the effects the roadway could have.

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