Have you ever taken the toll road connector from the Hardy Toll Road to IAH? I have, many times. Being able to bypass the traffic on Beltway 8 and JFK Boulevard makes it worthwhile for me to take the Hardy instead of I-45. Turns out that the city of Houston paid for part of the construction of this connector, but due to a weird quirk in the contract with the Harris County Toll Road Authority it’s not collecting any revenue for it. The city would like to renegotiate that deal.
In a recent letter to county toll toad officials, Houston Airport System director Mario Diaz pointed to the 1997 deal spelling out how the two governments would construct, maintain and collect tolls on the road.
The agreement, in what officials called a “puzzling” clause, does not give the city access to any of the revenues unless it builds its own toll plaza, Assistant County Attorney Nick Turner said. The county would have to tear down its existing toll plaza.
“It just doesn’t seem to reflect sanity,” said Harris County Toll Road Authority Director Peter Key.
In his letter, Diaz said the city has no plans to build such a plaza, but he noted that the city contributed 43 percent of the road’s $31.7 million construction cost and maintains a roughly 1.3-mile stretch of the road on airport property.
Tolls should be shared “in the same manner and ratio that construction costs were shared and we continue to share in maintenance responsibilities,” Diaz wrote.
Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved Key’s request to negotiate a revenue-sharing deal with the city.
“This is an outdated agreement,” Key said. “None of us really understand the mindset of the people that were involved in this 14, probably 15 years ago, in terms of setting it up. It ought to be amended to reflect today’s reality.”
One would think that a few of the folks who negotiated that deal are still with us, so it might be worthwhile to track them down and ask them. Not that it really matters that much today – this is clearly a silly arrangement, and it doesn’t make sense for anyone to have the city tear down an existing toll booth to build its own, so working this out ought to be easy enough. At least, if everyone involved is a grownup about it, it ought to be easy.
Commissioner Steve Radack said he does not support sharing the airport connector’s tolls with the city, saying it seems clear the city is not entitled to the revenues unless it constructs a toll plaza.
“I would hope that the city of Houston has enough common sense not to go out and tear down perfectly good tool booths to build their own so they can collect money,” Radack said. “I believe everybody should shake hands and leave things the way it is.”
Yes, in case you needed a reminder, you should never use the words “Steve Radack” and “grownups” in the same sentence. It’s always nice to know that some things never change.