Toll road increase costs some $500 per year

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Some commuters have recently discovered the Harris County Toll Road Authority's latest "inflation" increase is taking a big bite out of their transportation budget.

On Sept. 8, HCTRA raised rates for EZ Tag users by 10 cents at toll plazas. Cash customers saw an increase of 25 cents at toll plazas. Those figures represent 8 to 17 percent increases.

"Just to get on the other side of the city, it's a little much," one commuter said.

HCTRA spokesman Eric Hanson said he realizes nobody likes paying more, but it is a necessity to keep pace with inflation, construction and maintenance needs. He adds that the Harris County Toll Road system is self-sufficient.

"It gives Harris County quite an advantage to be able to expand our infrastructure base without relying on tax dollars. Not all cities in Texas or the country can do that," Hanson said.

The increase, though, is significantly more substantial for commuters who take the managed lanes of the Katy Freeway.

From 7 to 9 a.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., a trip end-to-end in the "express" lanes of the Katy Freeway costs $5, $1 more than it did previously.  For a driver who uses the lanes twice a day from beginning to end and has an average 250 work days per year, that adds up to a $500 increase on an annual basis.

One other point of note: Harris County Toll Road users pay more than their counterparts in other parts of the state, per mile, on average, according to each agency's own figures.

  • Austin area toll roads cost commuters 12 cents per mile.
  • Dallas area toll roads cost commuters 15.3 cents per mile.
  • Houston area toll roads cost commuters 18 cents per mile.

A 2007 policy ensures Harris County tolls will continue to increase by at least 2 percent every year, although the increases are not necessarily implemented every year. Generally, the increases are made in increments of a nickel for EZ Tag users and a quarter for cash users. The policy reduces the cost of signage changes.

The Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority is also raising rates October 20, 2012. Here is a list of the changes.

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.