Monday, December 18, 2006

Krusee: "I'm going to stop calling these things toll roads. From now on, they're 'time machines.' "

Tollways: Candy, or lump of coal?

December 18, 2006

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Getting There has been seized by the holiday spirit and today offers you the news equivalent of stocking stuffers.

•Although the new toll roads undoubtedly are getting a lot of people a lot of places faster, sometimes that amounts to the transportation equivalent of "hurry up and wait."

In one of those unintended consequences you're always hearing about, the opening of flyover bridges from Texas 45 North to northbound Interstate 35 has created a huge evening rush hour snarl on the interstate in Round Rock. Drivers from east and west go up two-lane bridges, merge and then find themselves funneled to just one lane entering I-35.

The backups, we're told by people who travel that way every day, have been long and consistent since the tollways opened. Now the really bad news: Highway officials say there's nothing they can do about it anytime soon. To widen I-35 at that spot to add another entrance lane would be ruinously expensive, situated as it is in the middle of intense Round Rock development.

One sliver of hope: The advent of toll charges Jan. 6 might lighten up toll traffic enough to ease the backup. Maybe.

•Tollway spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said that as of Wednesday, the agency had issued almost 71,000 TxTags to people in Central Texas. Those drivers will be able to go through tolling stations without slowing down and will pay 10 percent less than cash customers.

And the more tagholders there are, the shorter the lines will be at the toll booths for the cash customers.

•Ho-hum, another 14 miles of highway open. In contrast to the big hoop-de-doo when the first 27 miles of tollway opened in late October — several hundred folks showed up under a huge tent erected on Texas 45 North, and there was copious speechifying — this time, there was simply a lonely wooden podium in the southbound lanes of Texas 130 north of Georgetown, facing about 50 folding chairs.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, the Williamson County Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee and has pushed toll roads as a solution to our snarled highways, was among the handful of speakers. He talked about how the tollways that already opened, particularly the spacious Texas 45 North east-west artery, are so fast he has found himself allotting way more time to get places than turns out to be necessary.

"I'm going to stop calling these things toll roads," Krusee said. "From now on, they're 'time machines.' "

•Krusee, by the way, e-mailed this week after I ran an item about a 2005 transportation bill he sponsored. I had discovered language in there, now a part of state law, saying that during a legislative session lawmakers can skip a meeting of a "policy board" (like the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) and not be counted absent.

Krusee, who serves on CAMPO, said the short item by inference incorrectly laid this at his door. Actually, this language was added in a Senate committee, perpetrator unknown.

Krusee, like most of the Legislature, voted yes on the final product.

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