Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Using toll roads as a funding mechanism to finance new road construction in El Paso County will be difficult and may be a fiscally unwise investment"

Toll lanes approved for Border Highway


By ABC-7 Reporter Martin Bartlett
Copyright 2009

EL PASO, Texas -- Construction on express toll lanes in El Paso could begin as soon as early next year, according to a state transportation leader.

The toll lanes would affect the area along the Border Highway section of Loop 375. One toll lane would be added in each direction between U.S. 54 and Zaragoza Road.

The Texas Department of Transportation approved construction of the new lanes at a meeting Thursday morning in Austin.

The entire highway will get a makeover. The four existing lanes, two in each direction, will be reconstructed, and an additional lane will be added in the median in each direction. These will be express lanes, meaning you can't exit the freeway between Downtown and Zaragoza once you are in those lanes. You will have to pay a toll to drive on the new lanes.

The existing lanes would remain free to drive on.

The state has been using electronic toll booths elsewhere in the state. House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Pickett said they are still figuring out the technology they will use here.

"The local community that just wants to go a half mile down the road will still be able to go a half mile down the road without being caught in any sort of toll tag situation or toll," Pickett said.

There will be a way to drive on the new lanes without paying a toll. Pickett said any car with two or more people inside will be able to use the toll lanes free of charge. He said that is a first in Texas.

State Rep. Norma Chavez (D-El Paso) released a written statement in reaction to the approval of the toll lanes:

As the State Representative who represents a portion of Loop 375 - from US 54 to Zaragoza - I would like to express my concerns with designating tolled managed lanes on Loop 375 (César Chávez Border Highway), from US 54 to Zaragoza Road in El Paso County, as a toll project on the state highway system.

Based on the community meetings I have attended, and from input by my constituents on toll roads, using toll roads as a funding mechanism to finance the construction of new roads in El Paso County will be difficult and may prove to be a fiscally unwise investment. Many of my constituents who live along the César Chávez Border Highway are on fixed incomes. They live at and/or below the poverty level.

While toll roads may work in wealthier communities, such as Collin County in North Texas - where residents can use the Dallas North Tollway, the President George Bush Turnpike and the Sam Rayburn Tollway - that does not mean they will work in El Paso. The economic indicators suggest as such.

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