Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"Is the toll road costing me more than I'm going to get out of it?"

Texas 130 toll break unlikely to move many truckers

TxDOT set to vote on 25% cut today, but it's expected to have little effect on I-35 traffic.


By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2011

KYLE — Cutting truck tolls on Texas 130 by 25 percent won't make a difference to Sam Hutchins, a trucker for 30 years.

"They don't like us taking toll roads at all," Hutchins said of L&L Hauling, the company he has worked for over the past three years.

The Texas Transportation Commission is set to consider today lowering truck tolls on the eastern tollway loop around Austin, shaving what a five- or six-axle 18-wheeler pays from about $28 to $21.

TxDOT estimates that the change, even if it accomplishes the agency's goal of enticing extra truck traffic to the tollway, will have little effect on revenue. And it will likely have little effect on traffic congestion on Interstate 35.

TxDOT estimates that the lower tolls will increase truck traffic on Texas 130 and Texas 45 Southeast — which feeds into Texas 130 and would see the same toll cut — by 20 to 25 percent . That percentage increase, however, would apply to what is a very small number right now.

Officials last year said the 25 percent proposed cut probably would put about 350 additional trucks a day onto Texas 130 and, therefore, pull them off the parallel interstate.

However, that amounts to about 1.5 percent of the 24,000 trucks a day that TxDOT counted in 2007 on I-35 in the middle of Austin, and less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the total traffic on the interstate in Central Austin.

Interstate drivers probably will not perceive a difference.

Nevertheless, "it's a positive step," said John D. Esparza , president of the Texas Motor Transportation Association, a trucking industry trade group.

Esparza and truckers themselves pointed to several factors that will keep truckers on I-35 despite the cut.

The route through Central Texas on I-35 is 12 miles shorter than the eastern loop formed by Texas 45 Southeast and Texas 130. That amounts to about two gallons of diesel for most trucks, Esparza said.

With diesel selling for $3.43 a gallon Wednesday, that would be an additional fuel cost of close to $7 to take the tollways, assuming that a trucker doesn't end up caught in Austin traffic.

In other cases, the bosses don't want their truckers paying tolls.

"It's a business decision for each one of them," Esparza said. "Is the toll road costing me more than I'm going to get out of it?"

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