Friday, March 18, 2011

El Paso Times poll shows that most people do not plan to use the toll lanes

El Paso toll road going to bid


by Diana Washington Valdez
El Paso Times
Copyright 2011

The first toll-road project in El Paso County, planned for the César Chávez Border Highway, will go to bid next month, state Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton said Thursday.

"The project is going to bid (tentatively) on April 6 in Austin," Houghton said.

The work involves the construction of two new toll lanes, one in each direction, and the reconstruction of the highway's four existing lanes, about 8.7 miles from U.S. 54 to Zaragoza Road.

When the project is completed, the lanes will serve as an alternative for East Side commuters who now use Interstate 10 to travel to and from Downtown.

"That will be your first managed-lane toll road," Houghton said. "If you don't like the Interstate 10 highway, then you have the alternate route, and that alternate route is the toll road, if you want to take it."

According to El Paso's Comprehensive Mobility Plan, the project cost is estimated at $80.2 million. Texas Proposition 14 bond funds will cover $74 million, and federal earmarks an additional $6.2 million. It is expected to be completed in 2013.

Eduardo Calvo, a Texas Department of Transportation official in El Paso, said the toll fees for El Paso will be decided within the coming week and construction could begin by late summer.

"It will be a totally electronic system with no booths or baskets for coins," Calvo said. "The tolls will be different for peak and off-peak periods. The revenues raised here will stay in the region."

The El Paso toll road will use a non-cash system and will be part of the TxTag system used in other parts of the state.

In the Austin area, tolls range from 66 cents with a state TxTag account and sticker to $1.50 cash to use certain toll roads or sections of toll roads. In other urban areas of Texas, toll fees have raised millions of dollars.

"The toll-road project is innovative for us because it looks to the future," said Roy Gilyard, executive director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. "Everyone knows there are not enough funds to pay for all our transportation needs. This is one of several projects that we have planned to improve our mobility throughout El Paso."

A previous El Paso Times poll showed that most people did not plan to use the toll lanes, but motorists will have the option of using the express toll road or the non-toll part of the Border Highway.

Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at; 546-6140.

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