Harris County Toll Road Authority explores idea of reducing or suspending tolls amid record high inflation

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – With inflation hitting a 40-year high and soaring gas prices, the pain consumers are feeling is palpable.

“At least lower something on the toll fees so everyone can be happy,” one driver Divine Love said.

KPRC 2 has learned the Harris County Toll Road Authority is exploring an idea that could ease some of that pain.

Either reduce the cost of tolls or freeze them all together, much like they did at the start of the pandemic.

In 2021, HCTRA generated more than $551 million in revenue. More than 97% of it was from tolls.

“There are some questions that have to be asked,” said KPRC 2 Analyst and former Harris County Judge Ed Emmett.

He added that it’s important to know whether this is supposed to be a short-term or long-term fix? What’s the overall impact on the toll road system? And traffic? Parts of the toll road system, he said, particularly the West Beltway are already horribly congested.

“If you make it so inexpensive that a lot of people start trying to use the toll road then you’ve got a congested roadway built with the idea in mind that you would be able to move faster,” Emmett said.

In addition to some major projects HCTRA is already undertaking, Emmett foresees some potential legal issues if this is meant to be a long-term fix since the toll road system was financed through selling bonds.

“That means there are bondholders out there and there’s a certain covenant with the bondholder that said, ‘You’re going to collect revenue to pay off those bonds,’” Emmett said.

KPRC 2 reached out to the Harris County Toll Road Authority to get more details about the potential plans and they provided the following statement:

“To address your question of whether there will be any changes to the tolls, the Harris County Toll Road Authority, through approval from Harris County Commissioners Court, will not implement any toll rate changes this year. Incidentally, the agency has not had a toll increase since 2015.”

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