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When the LBJ Freeway’s additional toll lanes open next month it will usher in a new way area drivers pay to get around North Texas... and, it may be a harbinger of things to come in your neck of the woods too.
TxDOT will attempt to manage congestion by relying on dynamic pricing — toll rates that fluctuate every few minutes based on traffic conditions.
LBJ will be the first highway in Texas to use dynamic pricing on what’s being branded as TEXPress lanes. They run parallel to LBJ’s reconstructed main lanes, which will remain free. TEXPress lanes, eventually, will be the first dynamic-priced lanes in America to offer a guarantee (of sorts) that motorists can drive at least 50 mph — even during rush hour, says the Dallas Morning News.
At least four other planned highway expansions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — including Interstate 35E and State Highway 183 — will feature toll lanes with dynamic pricing alongside updated free main lanes.
Without the tolled managed lanes to generate money, officials say, highway construction that’s needed to keep pace with population growth would stall.
“This is the type of transportation project that’s going to drive the economy of 10 million people,” said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The long-congested highway is undergoing a $2.6 billion redevelopment. Developer LBJ Infrastructure Group, which will operate the highway for 52 years, financed the bulk of construction costs. Money collected from tolls will be used to pay back that investment.
The first phase to open will be a 3.2-mile stretch from Preston Road to Greenville Avenue. The recently reconstructed DFW Connector north of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is expected to use TEXPress lanes starting next year.
To ease drivers into the TEXPress concept, prices on LBJ will be capped during the first four weeks. The most a driver with a TollTag will initially pay to drive that stretch, depending on time of day and direction they are headed, is 95 cents. The cheapest amount is 15 cents.
After the first four weeks, the minimum and maximum toll rates could change. After motorists have had six months to get used to dynamic pricing, it’s likely there will be no caps on how much the rates could be. That means traffic — and what the project developer thinks people are willing to pay — will determine the cost.
LBJ Infrastructure Group will run a command center where traffic will be monitored and toll prices will be set based on congestion. Texas Department of Transportation officials will oversee the pricing.
“This is all going to be based on the behavior of the traffic,” said Robert Hinkle, corporate affairs director for the developer.
The way those toll rates fluctuate can seem counterintuitive. That’s because the more traffic there is in the tolled lanes, the higher the cost to use them. Higher prices are expected to decrease the number of drivers wanting to jump on, thus thinning out traffic.
Helping further that goal is the 50 mph guarantee that begins once the cap on toll prices is removed. Motorists who don’t end up averaging at least 35 mph will receive a rebate on what they’re charged — but only in some instances. Situations that are out of the operator’s control, like a car accident, won’t trigger a rebate.
“We want to move more people than a typical highway corridor does,” Morris said.
The toll rates will be posted on electronic signs. If the rates change while driving that segment, motorists will be charged the rate posted when they entered.
And, carpoolers and motorcyclists with TollTags will receive a 50 percent discount during rush hour on the base TEXPress lanes.
All things considered, it sounds like a smart way to proactively reduce congestion. But we'll have to withhold judgment for now until we see how high those tolls could go.