Monday, October 13, 2008

“When you ask the voters to approve a toll road, they have the expectation you’re only charging them to use the road."

Fort Bend toll rates to increase Jan. 1

October 11, 2008

By Tracy Dang
The Katy Times
Copyright 208

Drivers will have to pay more to use the Fort Bend Parkway and Westpark toll roads beginning Jan. 1.

Cars, pickup trucks and other two-axle vehicles will pay $1.25 at the main lane plaza. The rate is a 25-percent increase from the current $1.

Those passing the Harlem and Peek main lane plazas will pay 60 cents, a 20 percent increase from the current 50 cents.

Fort Bend County Commissioners Court approved the increase Tuesday by a 4-1 vote to compensate for the increase in maintenance and operations costs.

“The toll increase is necessary to assure that no property tax revenues are used to support the toll roads,” Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert said. “They must pay for themselves.”

Even though the current rates generate sufficient funds to service debt, the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority had designed a financial model that would allow it to build adequate reserves.

“It’s always been programmed into the economics when we sold the bonds that we’ll basically raise the tolls on a five-year basis,” said Bill Jameson, a consultant for the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority. “We want to know we have sufficient cushion.”

The rainy day fund would protect the county from unexpected circumstances such as increases in maintenance and operations, decline in ridership or natural disasters.

The county estimated it lost approximately $500,000 during the two-week toll suspension following Hurricane Ike.

Still, Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers voted against the increase, saying the toll road is paying for itself.

“I’m not going to charge more than the necessary user fee to provide the use,” he said. “When you ask the voters to approve a toll road, they have the expectation you’re only charging them to use the road. I don’t see why the government should have the taxpayers put money in its pocket.

“I see tough times coming ahead for my constituents. We’ve been fortunate this area has been spared for bumps in the road, but I don’t think the credit crunch and the economy crisis we’re going to be in isn’t going to spare us totally.

"I think we need to be cautious about increasing taxes when we’re going to be in rough waters.”

Fort Bend County voters approved the $140 million bond issue for the construction of the two roll road projects in November 2000.

Toll road fees have not increased since the Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road opened five years ago and the Westpark Toll Road opened four years ago.