TxDOT buys back SH 288 from foreign toll operators

Link to article here.

TxDOT ends agreement with private company overseeing Highway 288 toll lanes

ABC13 Houston
March 30, 2024

The Texas Department of Transportation is moving forward with a plan to end its agreement with the private company that oversees the toll lanes on Highway 288. So what does that mean for you?

The question is: When the state takes over the tollway, could you get a better deal or wind up paying even more?

TxDOT says it’s too early to say. That’s not necessarily the answer drivers want to hear while this is getting sorted out.

“[The drive is about] $17, $18 one way,” Darren Dixon, the owner of a BBQ restaurant right next to Highway 288, said.

Dixon drives the toll road daily.

“I do it every day, back and forth,” he said.

For Dixon and other drivers, a toll decrease would sure be welcome.

It’s the most expensive toll road in the area,” Shelly Nixon, another driver, said. “It’s so expensive. Surely they can make money and save us money at the same time.”

About eight years ago, TxDOT signed a contract with a private company called Blueridge Transportation Group that allowed them to build and run the toll lanes on 288.

The deal was supposed to be good for 50 years, but now, the state plans to pay that company $1.7 billion for the lanes over the next few months. That total is more than $600 million more than it cost to build and maintain, according to our partners at the
Houston Chronicle .

Buying back the tollway and creating a nonprofit corporation to oversee it could make the state money in the long run.

Since the toll lanes opened in 2020, the Chron reports drivers have had to pay more and more, from around $6 to more than $15 during peak commuting.

When ABC13 asked TxDOT whether the buyback would mean lower prices for drivers, the agency made no promises.

“If the agreement is terminated, toll revenue collected after the date of termination and future decisions regarding tolling policies, pricing, and operations, will be at the authority of the Texas Transportation Commission,” TxDOT said in a statement.

In the meantime, Dixon’s bills are adding up.

“I would say, $120, $150 a day, in tolls,” he said. “For my business, I see the receipts and gulp a little.”

Stop tolls, criminal penalties during coronavirus


Anti-toll groups ask Abbott to suspend tolls, penalties during crisis

(March 30, 2020 — Austin, Texas) Today, Texans for Toll-free Highways and Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) call on Governor Greg Abbott to suspend the collection of tolls during the state of emergency due to the COVID-19 crisis. Abbott has already suspended penalties for late vehicle registrations and drivers license renewals during the COVID-19 state of emergency, and the Texas Supreme Court has blocked residents from being evicted from their homes. In addition, power companies and public utilities have been blocked from shutting off power and water to homes during the crisis. So the anti-toll groups contend the same should be granted to drivers with unpaid toll bills so people don’t have their vehicles impounded and lose their ability to get to work.

The groups are asking the Governor to:
1) Suspend tolls during the state of emergency.
2) Suspend the imposition of fines and criminal penalties for unpaid toll bills (which includes fines, blocking one’s vehicle registration, and impounding vehicles).

Suspending tolls, fines, and criminal penalties will expedite the ability of trucks and essential workers to get goods and people to where they need to be using the fastest possible route. Many healthcare workers cannot work if they have a criminal record. Since an unpaid toll bill is considered a criminal misdemeanor (Section 372.110(b), 372.111, 372.112, see here) in Texas, this imperils healthcare workers’ ability to stay on the job in some health systems.

“This is not the time for state or local toll authorities to impose criminal misdemeanor charges against people with unpaid toll bills. A misdemeanor can prevent healthcare workers from keeping their jobs and possibly other essential workers like truckers and emergency responders. We cannot afford to lose any of our essential workers during a public health crisis,” advocates Terri Hall, Founder/Director of TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways.

“With the financial stress of many workers losing their jobs and families facing uncertain financial situations, having an unpaid toll bill that piles on penalties and late fees during this state of emergency and public health crisis is unreasonable, especially when work restrictions are in place,” Hall points out.