‘It turns into a parking lot’: Drivers frustrated over several toll lanes permanently shut down along Beltway 8

Redesigned booths to come in a few years after costly study

New details about costs to study future plans

HOUSTON – The drivers KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with on Tuesday near Beltway 8 didn’t hold back when complaining about what they were seeing.

“There are lanes closed that need to be opened,” said driver Nina Soto as she filled up her tank near the West Little York northbound exit.

Several other drivers expressed their frustrations of paying for life in a faster lane, only to instead be met with bottlenecks.

“It turns into a parking lot at that point,” said Taylor Ellason, in reference to various lanes being shut down for a few years now at multiple toll plazas in the system.

But why is it like this?

“The agency has made a decision not to put cash operators back out in the booths,” said Roberto Trevino, Executive Director for the Harris County Toll Raid Authority.

Trevino says revolutionizing toll booths and plazas where lanes are shut down is already being studied in a $19 million project management contract approved in January.

“That is a team of experts that is going to come in and look at all aspects of the program,” said Trevino.

The near project is set to cover safety designs, and also include driver focus groups in an effort to improve messaging for the use of Harris County toll roads.  

When asked if after decades of having this toll road does HCTRA really need to create a message for people to use the toll roads? Trevino quickly responded, “Yes,” and went on to add, “We believe so because there is a segment of the population that does not participate in the toll road because they don’t have an EZ Tag account and we want to be as inclusive as possible.”

Anyone is allowed to use the tollway since Harris County voters approved its construction nearly 40 years ago. The EZ tag is designed to make billing and commuting easier.

As far as how long the project will take?

“We are going to phase it in over the next 36 months,” said Trevino.

Three years and no concrete price tag on construction costs that ultimately will be passed onto drivers.

“We don’t know the true cost of this. We just started the design. We are looking at some concepts of what it is going to take,” said Trevino.

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