Thursday, June 21, 2007

Chain Reaction

Fort Bend weighs toll fee impact


By Bob Haenel
Fort Bend Herald-Coaster
Copyright 2007

Officials with the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority are trying to weigh the impact of a rate increase approved by the Harris County Commissioners Court on Fort Bend's toll roads.

Mike Stone, a consultant with the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority, said any rate decision by Harris County has a potential impact on Fort Bend's two toll roads, the extension of Westpark Tollway and Fort Bend Parkway.

Harris County Commissioners Court Tuesday voted to increase the toll on Westpark Tollway to $2.50 during peak hours in hopes of reducing the traffic flow on the route, but it was reported this morning on the Houston Chronicle Web site that County Judge Ed Emmett announced the cancellation of the Westpark increase.

The court did approve raising fees on all Harris County toll roads by 25 cents. They will take effect in September.

Stone said the Fort Bend County rates are set by Fort Bend officials, and they are behind.

"We don't go up in small percentage increments," Stone said Thursday. "Right before we opened the Fort Bend Parkway, the Harris County Toll Road Authority raised its rates (several years ago) and we kept ours, so we were kind of behind to start.

Stone said peak hour pricing has always been a consideration to control traffic flow rates.

"Congestion pricing has always been a consideration," he said.

But Stone said the increase in Harris County's charges would "discourage people from riding on our roads, too. If you discourage riders, it will have an impact on our revenue."

Stone said he believes the Harris County leaders will adjust the times in order to push motorists to earlier or later times that can still be workable for commuters.

He noted that when Westpark Tollway was extended, the main lanes for FM 1093 were also improved and widened.

Stone said it might have been easier to test the pricing change and hours before full implementation.

Even in a shorter test period, perhaps a couple of months, "you'd be able to tell if it was working."

"Everybody on the road will know if it's working because they wouldn't be stuck in traffic," he said.

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