Obviously inflation affects future costs for road expansion, improvement, etc.  The original cost for adding two to four lanes, overpasses and access roads for US Hwy 281 north of Loop 1604 was just over $100 million.  Had they started that project on time, it would have been completed in 2005.  So what would it cost today?  According to the Construction Cost Index, adjusted for inflation, it would cost around $170 million. Let’s compare that to what TxDOT, the ARMA, SAMPO, and others want.  

The toll plans for 281 include:

  • Six to eight toll lanes (three to four northbound and three to four southbound)
  • Four to eight free access roads (two to four on each side of 281)
    • The “free” access roads will have traffic lights with slower speed limits. How many traffic lights are you willing to go through to travel in and out of town before you give in and use the toll road? Which, of course, is what the investors hope for.  How slow are you willing to drive?  How much congestion can you stand?  How much are you willing to pay in tolls to drive on a freeway that is already built and paid for?
  • The width, or footprint, of both the original plan and the toll plan started as the same plan except for a few interchange areas that the toll plan calls for.  These areas will need to utilize more land to put in all the auxiliary lanes needed there. The original plan will have more open space and wider shoulders whereas the toll plan will crammed with little wiggle room for driver mistakes.
  • In 2005, the Legislature passed a law, HB 2702, prohibiting the conversion of freeways into tollways without a public vote and it required as many non-toll lanes to remain as exist today. So then, TxDOT changed the toll plan to add extra frontage lanes (not highway lanes), more than are needed, in order to convert the freeway. The footprint is close to doubled. No public vote is being allowed since the 281 conversion was grandfathered in. Now legislators say downgrading highway lanes to frontage lanes is not the intent of HB 2702 and believe TxDOT is perverting the law to convert this freeway.

The cost for the toll project will be $1.3 billion, not million, billion.  $475 million in construction costs plus $864 million in interest from bonds.

When it’s all said and done we will be triple taxed.  How?  1) US Hwy 281 has already been paid for with previous gas taxes. 2) There will be additional taxes used to construct toll roads. 3) We will have to pay a toll (which is a tax) to drive on it.  

TxDOT claims that there is no money to put in overpasses, but David Casteel, TxDOT’s Assistant Executive Director for District Operations on May 17, 2006 at the Bandera Road Toll Debate said: “…I think we have about $100 million dedicated to the construction of US 281 in gas taxes…”  In its April 15, 2008 article, The Newspaper.com discovered that TxDOT had agreed to give $20 million for a park near downtown Dallas.  

The RMA originally asked the MPO and the Texas Transportation Commission for $325 million from the Texas Mobility Fund for construction on 281.  The Commission then reduced the amount to $112 million.

With the $100 million that TxDOT’s David Casteel says is available, plus the $112 million that we would receive from the Texas Mobility Fund, there’s more than enough to complete the original plan now ($170 million) and keep it a freeway.

 

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