No-cash booths may hike revenue
helped, but only a little. That road between Interstate 35 near Buda and Texas 130 at Mustang Ridge, which was built with tax money and has no debt, brought in only about $4.2 million in the 2012 fiscal year.
TxDOT this fall also refinanced much of the $2.2 billion in debt it incurred in 2002 to build the roads, decreasing its annual debt service on the system by amounts that vary from $5 million to $20 million over the years.
But two other significant changes take place Jan. 1, and the projections reflect that. The Texas Transportation Commission decided to increase tolls on the northern 49 miles of Texas 130 by 25 percent, and on Texas 45 North and Loop 1 by 50 percent, rate hikes that are both larger and two years earlier than reflected in earlier projections. Beyond that, the commission also decided that the rates will be increased annually from now on using a formula tied to the consumer price index.
At the same time, the agency will stop allowing drivers to pay with cash at toll booths on those three roads (Texas 45 Southeast is “all-electronic” already). Going cashless will not only save money (an estimated $5 million a year, the agency said last week), but could also increase toll revenue. About 8 percent of the system’s users were still paying with cash as of August, while about 20 percent were using the “pay-by-mail” option. The rest have electronic toll tags on their windshields and pay that way.
Cash users have been paying tolls at a rate 10 percent higher than toll tag folks, while the payby-mail rate is 33 percent higher than the toll tag rate.
So, in theory, if all of those cash payers kept using the road and now were billed in the mail, revenue would go up. Similarly, if usage of the road remains unchanged, the higher toll rates will produce significantly more revenue.
Plus, the southern 41 miles of Texas 130 opened in October, making it a high-speed alternative to I-35 all the way to Seguin. Usage of that new section is slight so far. But that is likely to change over time and, although the revenue from that new section goes to a private company rather than TxDOT, many of those drivers will end up using the TxDOT section of Texas 130 as well.
In the short run, of course, the significantly higher toll rates might drive some people away. Or maybe not. People are getting used to tollways around here and they might be price-proof to some degree. TxDOT said last week it expects traffic on the roads to return to this year’s level in two years.
Usage of Texas 130,
Circuit of the Americas expected to increase already growing usage of tollways.
Texas 45 North and Loop 1, taken as a group, has increased by 37 percent since 2009. With Circuit of the Americas drawing people to the tollways, and more development in the Texas 130 corridor in the years to come, the numbers will surely increase.
And even the higher toll rates will still be much lower than what tens of thousands of people in Cedar Park and Leander are paying each day on the 183-A tollway, a road built and run by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. That road has been profitable almost from the point it opened in 2007.
TxDOT’s projections show system revenue going up from almost $97 million in fiscal 2012 to about $114 million this fiscal year, about an 18 percent jump.
So, higher revenue, lower costs and, if the projections are right, a tollway system kind of profitable by 2014, and truly in the black by the end of this decade.
It’s not easy to root for a toll road’s balance sheet, so it’s understandable if some of you hold the confetti. But a profitable tollway is better than the alternative.
This will be the Al Zuwaydees’ first Christmas in the United States, and while they are Muslim, they are getting in the spirit of an American Christmas. The Evergreen Farms Christmas tree is decorated in their apartment, and Austin Asset Management Co. employees are providing a Christmas dinner for them and collecting additional donations.
An Elks lodge has also adopted the family and wants to help them find better jobs.
Many of the material items on their wish lists have been taken care of. Al Zuwaydee needs tuition for computer tech training. Khudhair wants to get her child care training certificate and needs help paying for tuition.
To find out more about the Al Zuwaydees or to help with tuition or general living expenses, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 386-9145 or www.interfaithtexas.org.