Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Some drivers wondered whether commissioners have forgotten the working people."

Harris County raising toll road fees

June 19, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

The Westpark Tollway has become so congested during rush hour that top county officials voted today to double fees during rush hour in an effort to reduce the number of cars on the road and get traffic moving.

Commissioners Court also voted to increase fees by 25 cents on all Harris County toll roads effective in September.

Westpark drivers would pay $2.50 from 6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., with the hope being that fewer drivers will use the tollway and traffic will begin to flow.

Some drivers wondered whether commissioners have forgotten the working people.

"There are people who have budgeted a certain amount for tolls and need to use the tollway to get to work by a certain time in the morning," said Carol Ann Shipp in an e-mail to the Chronicle. These are not affluent professionals for whom the doubling of tolls is negligible. These are hardworking middle class workers who must count every penny."

County Commissioner Steve Radack said those who cannot afford the rush hour fees should use alternate roads.

"Let them go down Richmond Road,'' he said. "Or they can use Westpark,'' the surface road running nearby the tollway.

EZ Tag rates are now $1 per transaction, and cash rates are now $1.25 per transaction.

The rate hikes likely will go into effect in September, said Peter Key, deputy director of the toll road authority.

The court agreed to a schedule that would double all toll rates over the next 20 years. Rates will go up annually: 2 percent or at the rate of the rise in the consumer price index, whichever is greater.

Higher rates are needed to maintain the Harris County Toll Road Authority's good financial standing, pay for maintenance and build six toll segments estimated to cost $4.4 billion, Key said.

The rate hikes will in part pay for extending the Hardy Toll Road to downtown and the Sam Houston Tollway into northeast Harris County, turning the Hempstead Highway into a toll road, carrying out the second phase of the Fort Bend Parkway, adding toll lanes on Texas 288 and building the Fairmont Parkway.

"If the county decides to build all of these projects, the authority will need a substantial amount of revenue on hand," Key said.

The 25-cent increase would boost revenues by $65 million over 12 months, Key said.


© 2007 Houston Chronicle: www.chron.com

To search TTC News Archives click HERE