First DFW Tollway Became Toll-Free After Debt Was Paid Off. Why Not the Others?

Categories: Transportation

Tollway3.jpg
J. P. Fagerback
Dallas North Tollway: Once upon a time, it was thought that this road would one day be free. Ha.

If you've been trolling Reddit anytime in the last week, you may have seen this article from June 2, 1968, in which Jack Davis, an engineer and manager for the Texas Turnpike Authority, was quoted in The Dallas Morning News. He spoke about the fledgling Dallas North Tollway project, just two years old, and its impermanence as a tollway:

"When revenue bonds for a project are finally paid off, however, the facility reverts to the state as part of its highway system, to be used free."

This little gem of a quote has all but remained buried for the last few decades. Recently, though, the online community of Dallasites has become enraged at what seems to be an unfulfilled promise.

Jack Davis wasn't exactly lying. The first tollway in Dallas was the 1955 turnpike between Dallas and Fort Worth. The road had begun as the first project for the newly formed Texas Turnpike Authority (in 1997, the North Texas Transportation Authority took over the TTA). In 1977, when all debts were cleared, the road moved under the public umbrella of the Texas Department of Transportation and became the toll-free Interstate 30.

But in that 1968 article Davis was referring to the Texas Turnpike Authority's second tollway project, the Dallas North Tollway. The project began in 1966, and apparently never reached fruition before "it was no longer a statewide practice to remove tolls from roadways due to a lack of state funding to maintain the roadways," according to the NTTA website.

When the Texas Turnpike Authority was created in 1953, the state only technically specified the DFW Turnpike for the elimination of tolls once debts were paid. Michael Rey, a spokesman for the North Texas Transportation Authority, says he is unaware that there was ever an official policy to make tollroads toll-free after debts were paid.

Which means that Davis' 1968 promise may have been a statement of unofficial intent. But since the debt for the Dallas North Tollway has never been paid off, and there's apparently no state budget for tollroad maintenance, there's no way to know for sure.

"The DFW Turnpike was a forerunner in this region, and that was a singular decision on that particular turnpike," Rey told Unfair Park. "And the Dallas North Tollway has had several extensions to it that have increased debt."

It's worth noting that, in 2013, NTTA's outstanding debt was around $325 million. Operating expenses were just over $116 million, and nearly $77 million was allotted for the improvement fund.

With an allotted 2013 budget of nearly $518 million, the NTTA could have broken even. But the debt continues to rise as construction and maintenance projects expand. Tolls, meanwhile, bring in a dependable stream of revenue.

"If tolls were eliminated permanently, there would not be other funds available to maintain the roads in their current smooth, safe and high quality manner," Rey later elaborated in an e-mail statement. Now that we think about it, it is hard to pass up the chance to bring in a steady flow of money, especially if the state continues to balk at maintenance funding.



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60 comments
noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

The only solution to this is to fervently call upon the Legislature to stop these excesses.


Yes; it's easier to allow more tollroads than it is to find more highway construction money.    But, with half the country in financial distress, and even more unable to afford a luxury such as paying for express service, this really is a "wedge issue" between "haves" and "have nots", and unduly penalizes people based on wealth. 


The state is also failing to repair and improve these highways because the pressure is off with tollroads in place.



GAA1
GAA1

It's just a big hustle. The Mountain Creek Tollway in Western Dallas County has paid for itself and the greedy trolls keep collecting tolls.  

karen831
karen831

Texas has refused Federal roadway money and allocated no state funds for such.


I found out only a few months ago that 635 was going to include a toll road. Then I saw toll road signs on 114 at the north airport entrance. Now yesterday, I find out that 183 includes a toll road. My thought was that the tolls would be removed when the work was paid for. Guess not!

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

a)  "If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor."  b) "The border has never been safer."

c)  "As soon as the debt is paid off, the roadway reverts to a state highway."


As it stands now, there is no plan to fix any of these things.  The NTTA is not focused on retiring debt.  Rather, it's interest is in dramatically increasing revenues to increase salaries and profits to investors. But, it's also interested in expansion, and certainly lobbying elected officials who are supposed to work for ALL of us.


Where there is a lack of focus, there is a lack of direction and action. 


There is not enough oversight and regulation of tollroads.  But, the WORST is turning highways already paid for by taxpayers into tollways.  That should be criminal.

Tollroads create an income and wealth test on good streets and roads.  Yet, those least able to pay ever-increasing tolls are penalized  and disadvantaged from using paid express routes. 

This business is out of control, and needs cities, counties, and the state to get serious about regulation and oversight -- as well as plans to pay debt and convert former tollways to free roads.   



CapGuy
CapGuy

Of course when you have 14 workers cleaning out leaves from traps around Mockingbird on a weekend,on overtime, it's hard to imagine how there will ever be any finds to retire debt.

WylieH
WylieH

The reason for the difference in approach is simple. Tarrant County has more political clout than Dallas. Plus, on the east side of the Metroplex, powerful land speculators saw the opportunity to use the captive Dallas driver base on the original part of the Dallas North Tollway as a source of subsidies to fund the suburban sprawl roads to the north.

edmp
edmp

Fact Check: The facility in the title was the DFW Turnpike, not DFW Tollway.

jay_cutcher
jay_cutcher

Proof that once a government program starts, it NEVER goes away.  They are like drugs.

pak152
pak152

"If tolls were eliminated permanently, there would not be other funds available to maintain the roads in their current smooth, safe and high quality manner,""

you should have seen what happened to the DFW Turnpike when the tolls were removed. Truck traffic pounded the pavement almost to dust. the Tollway authority learned their lesson

pak152
pak152

'But since the debt for the Dallas North Tollway has never been paid off," actually portions of the debt have been paid off, but the tolls collected on those parts go to service the debt on the new parts and for maintenance

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

I think they should just tear it down/fill it in and make the neighborhoods more walkable.

Ricky_Hollywood
Ricky_Hollywood

According to the House Committee on Transportation and the Texas Transportation Institute, The state gas tax which is 20 cents per gallon, generated ~$2.25 billion in 2013.

Let's say they increase the tax by 10 cents.  The average driver right now pays around $9.50 per month in gas taxes according to the same people.  This would go to $14.25 with a 10 cent increase, but would generate ~$1.1 billion.  A BILLION dollars for a $1 per week increase.  This would bring the state highway fund revenue to ~$8 billion per year.


But, you're probably saying that those numbers are for all of Texas and I live in DFW, so the rest of Texas can eff right off.  Ok, but picture this.  According to a 2009 Texas Transportation Needs Study done by a Texas Transportation Commission appointed committee, the 2030 Committee, Texas needs ~$4 billion a year to maintain, improve, and build roads and a further ~$2 billion for bridge repair and maintenance.


In 2010, the NTTA had revenue of ~$444 million according to their budget documents with total costs of ~$768 million.  Their legal costs alone are ~$7 million.  The average cost of tolls for tollway users is ~$568/year (NTTA's number) which is ~$47/month.


What I'm getting at is why should we have to pay around $50/month plus face fines and penalties if you forget to update your card or something of that nature plus force people who don't pay tolls into arduous and unpayable fees when it could all be corrected state-wide with an extra $1 to $1.50 a week?  Why do you want to pay so much more for a private company to give you the finger?  I don't get it.  Maybe I'm too simple, but to me it looks like greed and backroom dealings, but we've turned it into this dumb-ass political bullshit argument about "I ain't paying for nobody's nothin unless it directly affects me."  I'm not saying we should all go out and start goose stepping to Wagner and enjoying Socialism.  All I'm saying is that I would rather pay 15 bucks a month with no hassle, than pay 50 a month with a ton of bullcrap strings on it.

James080
James080

Government rarely uses tax money for it's designated purposes, why should toll road revenue be any different?

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

Doesn't matter.  The Federal Highway Trust Fund runs out in 22 days.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

But, ooooohhhhh the cavity searches, aaaaaaahhhhhhh.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano topcommenter

That is a question. But if it is profitable, who gets the profits?

OxbowIncident
OxbowIncident

"Michael Rey, a spokesman for the North Texas Transportation Authority, says he is unaware that there was ever an official policy to make tollroads toll-free after debts were paid."


.....Of course not, and crack dealers are unaware that you have to keep paying more after you get high.

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

I don't have a problem with toll roads, but I DO have a problem with every new major road being built as a toll road (380 in Denton and Collin Counties could be next).

The gas tax should be raised already.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

Toll is the new Tax.

rbtxcat75
rbtxcat75

I love the comments that go the route of political lines........that never happens!  TxDot can either spend money building roads or they can outsource or privatize this to a vendor that can be held responsible for maintenance, construction and timing.  Business-wise, it makes sense to outsource because you can hold an outside vendor responsible for anything that happens with the road.  Plus they can build the road much quicker and maintain it much better than the state of TX.  In exchange, they collect tolls to recoup their money.  If you don't agree with this method, the other route is to start raising taxes (gas tax) for more roads.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

If we got rid of tolls, we would have to raise the gas tax.  Since I rarely use Tollway, but do drive in a gas powered car, I prefer the TXDOT approach.  Should I use a tolled road I will gladly pay the fee.  Contrary to your grade school education, we are NOT in this together.  If you use something then pay for it as you use it.  A way of life - get used to it.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@pak152 The agreements on tollroads call for them to be paid off as quickly as possible, and then revert them to free state highways. 


But, the NTTA keeps spending more and more money which is then charged to tollway debt.  At this rate, NONE of these new toll roads will ever be paid of free.

kduble
kduble

@pak152  What lesson? The tolls came off when they turned it over to the state to maintain, so this cost them nothing.

EdD.
EdD.

@holmantx Why not tear down I-45 and make the whole state more walkable? Imagine how much closer Dallas and Houston will be as a community if the only way to get there is by walking! Or airplane, I guess.

Barnzey
Barnzey

@holmantx  Yes, let's strip away a vital component of metropolitan area mobility to improve "walkability" within a neighborhood. Cuz, you know, people aren't supposed to move back and forth between Dallas and its suburbs.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@Ricky_Hollywood If $75 from everyone covers the whole thing and the cost to cover your piece are $600/year for you and direct users, then lowering your costs to 75 has to mean most people are not getting $75 of incremental value.  Otherwise  they could not cover the difference between 75 and 600.   If everybody got $75 of value out, gas tax is ok.  Those people are sacrificing to lower your costs.

Anon.
Anon.

Start by ending the diversions. Of the twenty cents per gallon you pay in gas taxes only $0.075 (seven and a half cents) gets to TxDOT for them to actually build or maintain something. Education gets a piece, DPS gets a big piece, the Comptroller taxes a cut, then there is debt service costs, and after all that a little more than a nickel that you just paid out of that twenty cents gets to TxDOT. After the diversions are ended, then take a look and see how much more is needed.

Anon.
Anon.

@James080

That should read "Average government rarely uses tax money for it's designated purpose..."

Smart government always uses tax money for appropriate and designated purposes. The problem is, there is precious little in the way of smart government these days.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

@CheeryBitch Actually, building toll roads to serve all these far flung suburbs is only fair. People want to live 50 miles away, why should city dwellers pay for their roads? 

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@CheeryBitch  Why?  All the growth is concentrated in pockets of urban areas.  That growth is draining the fund.  Why should the entire state pay for a bigger interchange on 121, a structure that will never keep up with growth?  Let the people that use that road pay for it.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@ChrisYu

Toll is the new tax is the new penalty

kduble
kduble

@rbtxcat75  I'm not convinced NTTA maintains better than TX Dot. Last time we had an ice storm, it was TX Dot that got its roads sanded. NTTA didn't.

TexMarine
TexMarine

@bvckvs yeah, commuting to and from a job really sticks it to those city folks.

James_the_P3
James_the_P3

@bvckvs How do you reckon?  I live in liberal East Dallas, and none of the highways that I ever use are tolled. 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

@Barnzey @holmantx

I envision a communal garden with herbs and organic goodies ten fucking miles long where I can run naked free, Free, FREEE !so what if TxDoT shows 93,000 cars a day.  I-345 carries 179,000.  So let's knock that down too.

(sarcasm alert)

kduble
kduble

@Anon. The problems with focusing on diversions: 1) The system is underfunded and unsustainable even if you stop the diversions, and 2) you now have to come up with another means to recoup the lost revenue.

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@Anon. I couldn't agree more.  And, it's becoming less and less.

James080
James080

@Anon. 

There is the way things are, and the way things should to be.

We deserve the former, but receive (and suffer) the latter.


CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch


@MikeWestEast All our taxes go into some fund that pays for people we'll never see, or for projects we'll never benefit from or from programs we don't use. That's an accepted given.  It's for the greater good.


You're making my point, though. 121, or Sam Rayburn rather, is a toll road. Fine, let it stay that way. But raise the gas tax to pay for roads all across the state. If Pampa needs a new road, it shouldn't be a toll road.


Don't forget that while in urban areas, the roads "draining" the fund aid interstate travel and the transportation of goods.

Anon.
Anon.

Because the urban areas generate most of the economic activity in the state. That includes the central cities and the suburbs. Keeping the roads up to snuff across the Metroplex (or across metropolitan Houston or Austin or San Antonio) helps everyone in the state. Every singe individual benefits because Texas is the largest exporter of goods in the US. If those goods can't get to market, and get there reliably on time, then we all suffer.

MikeWestEast
MikeWestEast

@CheeryBitch  Very few of these road improvements have jack to do with interstate travel.  They intend to help commuters live in one place in Metroplex and work at the opposite end of the Metroplex.  Nothing wrong with that choice in principle, but you have to pay to make your life choice a viable one.

Anon.
Anon.

@MikeWestEast

Never mind that the two largest MSAs in the State, the DFW Metroplex and Houston, account for two thirds of the 2012 GDP of the entire state of Texas. With two MSA's making up two-thirds of the state's GDP, and with Texas creating more exports than any other state, those highways are very important, not only to commuters, but to Interstate commerce as well.

The 2012 State of Texas GDP was larger than that of South Korea or Mexico. The Texas economy is an important component of the world's economy. Local transportation issues can and do affect the ability of, not only local commuters to get hither and yon, but also the ability of global corporations to receive shipments as well as get their finished products out across the US and around the world.

A wreck on I45, I35, I20, or I30 that shuts down the entire highway sends ripples in both directions along that highway for hundreds of miles as commercial traffic is backed up. Take a look at TxDOT's commercial truck traffic flow maps some time to get a better idea of the magnitude of commercial traffic that comes into and goes out of the Metroplex. It is simply astounding.

kduble
kduble

@MikeWestEast  This is why we need to raise the tax. Unlike a sales tax, a levy per volume doesn't even account for inflation.

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