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Are toll roads the future for Central Texas transportation?

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TWC News: Are toll roads the future for Central Texas transportation?
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Four toll roads surround the Austin area and more could be on the way as mobility planners are now considering tolling roads which are currently free for drivers.

The newest roads surrounding the city offer drivers a savings of time for a price. State Highways 130 and 45, the new northern portions of 183 and MoPaC--all were brought on-line as toll roads.

But Tuesday, the public got a peek at what could be Austin's future—a proposal to toll an existing portion of 183 between 290 and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

While the project—dubbed the Bergstrom Expressway—is in the information gathering stage, TxDOT is now offering two options for the stretch.

"At this point in time, we’re really only considering two alternatives,” Steve Pustelnyk with the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority said. “One would be a tolled expressway. The other is a 'no build'. We always consider a 'no build' so in this process we will either move forward with a tolled expressway or we will do nothing and we will leave the road as is."

Meaning that the four to six lane expansion won't happen unless it comes with a toll for drivers.

But the Bergstrom Expressway is just one of many tolls that could come to the capitol city. Earlier this month. YNN reported that express toll lanes on the MoPac Expressway are now on the fast track to reality.

Final approval came Friday from the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority to start work on 11 miles of toll lanes from Lady Bird Lake to Parmer Lane. The express lanes would be in addition to several free lanes.

That Construction is set to start by summer 2013.

Many consider the use of tolls the way of the future. In August, Central Texas Turnpike System spokesperson Kelli Reyna drivers in the area are beginning to prefer to use toll roads.

"We think more and more drivers in Central Texas are becoming accustomed to using toll roads and like the convenience of getting where they need to be without driving in congested areas," she said.

Our own investigation showed that a drive from Georgetown to Buda will save a driver about an hour, but it will cost you about seven dollars in gas and tolls.

But toll roads are notoriously unpopular with a public used to driving for free.

While more tolled roads are generating revenue, it is not without input from the public. According to TxDot, no existing roads will convert to toll roads unless approved by vote, even then there will always be a non tolled alternative.

"At first, I was thinking ‘Why should we pay a toll when there is a road already in existence?’” Austinite Hector Barrientos said. “But I know that it is going to improve the traffic flow snd so if they make it a toll road, I drive that road a lot and there are a lot of stops and I think that would improve matters.

A solution to a growing traffic problem with mixed reviews by drivers and with the population showing no signs of slowing down, it may continue to be one of the ways to shorten commute times.

For more information on the development of the roads in your area, visit TexasTollways.org.

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