Toll roads should be eliminated


Trennt Rhea

Tollway sign states the price of the LBJ TEXpress lane underneath I-635 on March 9.

Trennt Rhea, Photo Editor

While driving home from work at 5 p.m., you notice something ahead of you: brake lights. You slow to a stop and join every Texan in a statewide tradition known as rush hour traffic.

You are tired, hungry and just want to go home. You notice a triggering sign that reads “toll road.” You enter through the on-ramp, and now you must pay a fee. There is even more traffic than before. You finally get home at 6 p.m.

Why do toll roads exist? There are different answers to this question – one of them is the size of Texas. Texas is a massive state, being the second largest state in the United States after Alaska.

Due to the sheer size of Texas, automobiles and the highway system have become a requirement for basic living. Truly, if it were that simple, traffic would not be a problem, and toll roads would not exist.

During the 19th century, the economic boom of transportation took place. The locomotive replaced horses as the main mode of transportation in the United States. Locomotives allowed businesses to transport products across the United States, which would bring in capital. Aside from the obvious financial benefits, locomotives also provided a way for people to easily travel from one city to the next and back without moving to a new home.

One hundred years later, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1944, ushering in a dark, bleak and dreadful future for travel in the United States. However, American bureaucracy ensured that funds for the interstate system would not be allocated until 1956, when the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

With this law, the atrocious and appalling toll road system was put in place in Texas. The first toll road in Texas was opened in 1957. This toll road was between Dallas and Fort Worth and it cost 50 cents to drive from one end to the other. This toll road is now Interstate 30 highway.

Modern toll roads function by taking a picture of your license plate when you enter an entrance ramp to the toll road. The camera identifies the vehicle’s owner and a bill is sent to that person. You can also get a toll tag called TxTag, which makes it cheaper to drive on toll roads.

Operations of the toll roads in Texas are managed by the Texas Department of Transportation or TxDOT, and are further delegated to political subdivisions, or authorities, by region and county. The North Texas Tollway Authority or NTTA, operates all toll roads in the DFW metroplex.

The State of Texas has 25 toll roads. This is more than any other state. One reason for toll roads’ existence is the funds received through government bonds, which are repaid by toll road drivers. These bonds are used to maintain the toll roads and additionally used for road construction. This explains why toll roads exist, but it does not explain the need for them.

Avoiding traffic and providing convenience are other arguments. These are not good enough reasons for toll roads to exist, and drivers should not fall into this absurd argument.

Toll roads do not deter traffic, and they most certainly are not convenient. If they were, traffic and accidents caused by drivers exiting the express lane on I-35 would not be a problem.

If toll roads were convenient, there would be no traffic on I-635 on a Thursday afternoon. Toll roads are simply not convenient, even with the Dallas North Tollway or DNT,  right in the middle of Dallas.

The amount of money involved in toll roads maintenance is absurd. According to an NTTA financial report, NTTA’s total system revenue for 2021 was over $900 million, and according to their five-year outstanding debt, they owed $1.2 billion between 2017 and 2021.

They could pay off a huge portion of their debts using just a year’s worth of revenue. Instead, NTTA supposedly needs to use most of their funds to maintain the toll roads.

In 1975, WFAA did a story on the DNT increasing to 25 cents for admission on the highway. The NTTA authorities in 1975 said not enough cars were using the tollway to pay off the road’s $33.5 million construction. The original cost for admission to the DNT was 15 cents. The authorities in 1975 also predicted it would be free to drive on the DNT by 2005. The price today is 20 cents per mile.

The closest toll road to Brookhaven Campus is the I-635 LBJ Express, which cost $2.6 billion to complete, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. It took five years to build and was finished in 2015. Has the LBJ Express helped alleviate traffic on I-635 after spending a massive amount of money to build? I drive on that highway almost every day. It has not helped with traffic in any way. I-635 also ranks as the 17th most congested highway in Texas, according to TxDOT’s 2022 top 100 most congested road segments in Texas.

How does this affect me as a college student? I have been driving on Texas roads since I was 16 and typically drive anywhere from 15-45 minutes in the DFW area. I know at what time I need to leave for class or meetings, but you cannot beat traffic. I used to have a toll tag, NTTA’s convenient card supposedly made it cheaper to drive on toll roads. I found out I was actually paying more when I had a toll tag.

After I stopped using a toll tag, I accidentally merged onto the DNT and was charged a very large bill due to late fees. This is how the toll roads get you. They have prices that are difficult to understand and then charge late fees after sending the bill late in the mail.

Toll roads are designed to help drivers with convenience and avoiding traffic. Instead, they do the opposite. Toll road authorities have funds to fix the messes they cause, but choose not to do so. It is an abysmal system that overcharges in the name of maintenance and construction.

Texas is truly a beautiful state and you should drive its highways without being hindered by an unacceptable, substandard excuse for a money laundering scheme.