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Backlash on Westpark Toll Road fees

Looks like there’s a little commissioner’s remorse over the upcoming toll road fee hikes.

Several Commissioners Court members received calls and e-mail criticizing their decision Tuesday to double tollway fees during peak hours.

“My initial thought was to implement these changes and then review them,” said County Judge Ed Emmett. “But my view may be changing on that.”

But unless the court revisits the issue, the Harris County Toll Road Authority plans to move forward with the new fee schedule in September, said Peter Key, the authority’s deputy director. The authority would study whether the peak-hour fees should be lower or higher after they go into effect, he said.


The court authorized the toll road authority to set peak-hour pricing from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. inbound and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. outbound.

Toll transactions along the main part of the tollway now cost $1. That fee will rise to $1.25 per transaction during nonpeak hours. And the rate during peak hours will be $2.50 per transaction.

“I don’t think we need three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon,” Radack said.

The problem with all this is that the higher toll fee isn’t going to adjust people’s behaviors in a constructive way. It will just move them from a crowded freeway to crowded surface roads. I don’t see what good might come out of that.

Congestion pricing is used elsewhere in the country to keep traffic flowing. It hasn’t been tried before in Texas, but the future Katy Freeway toll lanes are expected to have peak-hour pricing. “What’s going on in Houston will be a model for what people around the state can look forward to,” said Christopher Poe, director of the Center on Tolling Research at Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.

The peak-hour prices on the tollway would raise the toll rate during regular hours from about 18 cents per mile to about 20 cents. The peak-hour rate would be about 42 cents.

Some rates are much higher in other parts of the country.

During peak hours on Friday afternoons, motorists on State Route 91 in the Los Angeles area pay nearly $1 per mile, or $9.50 for a 10-mile trip.

“The idea is not to discourage use,” Poe said. “It’s to get people to change their schedules to reduce the demand at peak hours.”

That’s a fine idea, and one I generally support, but the implementation here sucks. If the goal is to discourage people from driving during those times – or to find alternatives to driving – you have to at least help them understand what their options are, if not actually help create some new ones. Most people can’t adjust their workdays to avoid the 6-9 and 4-7 time periods, which is the only choice they’re being given besides “Let them eat cake drive on Richmond”. Maybe Commissioners Court could have done something with Metro to expand park-and-ride options to include service to the Beltway 8 area, or something like that. Maybe that’s not realistic either, I don’t know, but almost anything has to be better than what was done.

Of course, according to this clueless letter writer, it’s all actually Metro’s fault.

Refund due to rightful owners

The punishing 150 percent toll increase on the Westpark Tollway proves that the Metropolitan Transit Authority was negligent when it decided to build a highway that was obsolete at the moment of conception.

This latest fiasco underscores the very urgent need to do away with Metro altogether and return the billions of tax dollars it wastes to their rightful owners.


HCTRA, METRO, it’s all the same to him. I just hope he doesn’t vote in the next referendum election, whenever that might be. And is it just me, or does anyone else think that if the Chron is going to choose to print a dumb letter like this, they owe their readers the courtesy of an editorial footnote to explain that the writer has his facts completely wrong? Houstonist has a much better rant about this.

One more thing: How much of the current Westpark woes do you think are cause by the construction on I-10? Seems to me Commissioners Court could have chosen to wait to implement congestion pricing after some of the excess traffic on Westpark had migrated north. Maybe they’d have found it’s not that bad after all.

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  1. Tim says:

    I suggest they are going at this the right way. Most people I’ve known, both in the Houston area and the San Francisco Bay Area, often opted for flexible hours (outside of the worst of rush hour) when given the opportunity. They didn’t need “congestion pricing” to change their behavior; all they needed was the flexibility to do so.

    All this implementation will do is punish people who work for employers who can’t or won’t give that flexibility.

    “Congestion pricing” sounds good in theory, but I suspect that it will nail a lot of people who would already be commuting out of peak hours if they could. So in that sense, how much behavior will it change?

  2. Tim says:

    Oops. In the comment above, I left a NOT out. As in:

    I suggest they are NOT going at this the right way.