TxDOT takes first step toward paying off toll roads

The state is looking to find out what it would take to pay off state owned toll roads. (Photo: KEYETV)

The Texas Department of Transportation took its first step Thursday to find out how the state could pay off its toll roads.

In between legislatures, the state is working to see what it would take to pay off all of its toll roads as defined in HB 2612.

"Are there toll roads that could be bought out and if so what are the implications what are the cost of doing that?" TXDOT executive director Marc Williams asked.

TxDOT will not only look at which tolls can be bought out, but the effects of doing so. They'll be talking with multiple planning organizations to see if any of their future road projects would be affected.

They'll also look at funding in the future without toll revenue, especially for road maintenance and future widening of roads like SH 130.

"There are sections of State Highway 130 here in Austin today that are already seeing congestion on them," Williams said.

Williamson said the biggest question to answer is cost. Previous estimates show it would take around $30 billion to pay off all state toll roads, and more than $5 billion for just those in Austin.

These figures are only for state toll roads, Regional Mobility Authority's toll projects like 290 and 183A would not be included.

For many people, getting rid of tolls is a priority.

"Very important," Ashely Gordon, who's running for Travis County Commissioner precinct 1, said.

Gordon said many people living in East Austin or in areas like Pflugerville have to take the toll roads every day to get to and from work. She specifically pointed out Austin's Colony, which is just east of FM 969 and SH 130.

"Residents in Austin's Colony, they're working class and so that is a price that they can't afford to add to their monthly budget," Gordon said.

"Our toll roads are roads that we actually need," she adds.

However, Gordon is not entirely sure about the state coughing up the billions of dollars to make that happen.

"As long as I said before, as long as it doesn't put too much of a burden in the long run on the residents of Travis County," Gordon said.

So she also recommended having discount programs for people in need, possibly funded by local counties.

"Not having those alternatives is going to ring high because it has to do with the talks of inequity that we talk about where people live on the outskirts and not having access to the city where they work," Gordon said.

TxDOT is supposed to finish its report by September 1 and then the Legislature in 2017 will decide if it wants to pay to open up toll roads.