Harris County toll roads generate hundreds of millions a year. Hidalgo, commissioners changed how money will be used

HOUSTON – The Harris County’s toll road system is described as one of the best and most financially successful urban toll road systems in the country.

The system, which includes the Sam Houston Tollway, Hardy Toll Road, Westpark Tollway, Tomball Tollway, and Katy Freeway Toll Lanes, covers 128 miles across the county. It generates hundreds of millions of dollars every year, the bulk of which is usually put right back into the system.

Revenue being diverted

But that’s about to change.

In 1983, Harris County voters approved the Hardy and Sam Houston toll roads with the intent that the toll money would be used for expansion, maintenance, and improvements. But last month, Judge Lina Hidalgo, along with County Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia, passed a new measure from the Harris County Toll Road Authority, or HCTRA, to create a publicly funded corporation to fund the system.

“Our tolls should be spent on the people of Harris County,” Hidalgo said. “For sidewalks, and transit, and flood control, whereas before they weren’t being used.”

KPRC 2 asked the judge if there were specific projects identified to ensure the money will go where it’s supposed to.

“We’re still drafting the agreement,” she said. “I can’t tell you exactly what the agreement is going to say.”

Concerns over the process

There are concerns this was all down without public input.

Peter Key, HCTRA’s interim Executive Director, says protocols were followed.

“This was a transparent process,” he said. “I don’t know if we let the public know through social media.”

But a look at HCTRA’s Facebook and Twitter pages show no mention of the plan to divert hundreds of millions of dollars in your tolls.

Review looming in Austin

At the state capital, the House Transportation Committee is aware of the move to divert toll road money and State Senator Paul Bettencourt plans to let Attorney General know as he would have to approve the new corporation that’s proposed.

“Why should taxpayers care?” asked Sen. Bettencourt “Because you already paid the money. The $1.6 billion — it’s really your money, not the government’s money.”

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