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Discount program aims to detour truckers around Austin

Friday, April 1, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Texas Transportation Commission voted on Thursday to give cross-state truckers extra incentive to avoid Austin’s notoriously congested stretch of Interstate 35.

With only one dissenting voice, the five-person commission – a board of gubernatorial appointees that oversees the Texas Department of Transportation – gave the green light to a temporary discount program to lure long haulers to bypass the city using two toll roads east of town. The motion passed on a 4-1 vote, with Victor Vandergriff opposed.

Beginning in April, all 18-wheelers using State Highway 45 Southeast and the state-owned portion of State Highway 130 will enjoy a 33 percent discount during weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. In October, truckers with TxTags will pay the same as drivers of two-axle cars. That comes out to a total of $8.04 to go from just north of Buda all the way to Georgetown.

The program was backed by state Sen. Kirk Watson and Rep. Celia Israel, who both showed up at the commission’s meeting Thursday morning to support the discount. Both sold it as a measure to help relieve congestion on I-35.

“While this item is not a silver bullet, it is one more tool to increase mobility in our urban core,” Israel said, according to a press release sent out after the vote. She said the plan “represents a concrete action to improve congestion without actually requiring more concrete.”

Even without the concrete, the program will cost $18.7 million.

While the proposal is perhaps politically popular, its efficacy remains to be determined. Researchers at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute studied truckers and toll roads on Austin highways and released their findings last fall. According to the summary, “Only 14 percent of I-35 traffic volume is vehicles traveling through the region without stopping, and of that volume, only one percent are trucks.”

In other words, the vast majority of trucks on I-35 in Austin are traveling to or from destinations within the city and would therefore have little use for the far-flung toll roads out east.

The toll discount program has some time to prove itself, however. The program begins in April and will run through August 2017.

Photo by Darren Glanville made available through a Creative Commons license

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