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HCTRA - A New Information Site


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https://hctra.co

 

The primary purpose of this site right now is an information dump.

 

I put some of my opinons on the front page, but I may remove them. The information about Texas Tag is important though - more proof that HCTRA is being run as if it were a profit seeking entity, rather than in service to the residents of Harris County.

 

I am open to rational debate. I also accept submissions for the site.

 

I am not opposed to the basic idea of toll roads either, but I think HCTRA has been actively abusive to their customers, and privately, I believe that one or more of these documents will reveal malfeasance. They are posted for public review as I don't have the time myself to go through them all.

 

I know that this site is already receiving some traffic from people mistyping "hctra.com", so I have mentioned how an existing EZ TAG holder would need to go to hctra.org to service their account.

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9 hours ago, MikeRichardson said:

HCTRA OPERATES AT A HUGE YEARLY PROFIT. OVER $120,000,000 PER YEAR IS REMOVED FROM HCTRA ANNUALLY TO PAY FOR UNRELATED COUNTY ROADS.

That sounds actually pretty good if true. It's better than rail, which even the most successful of which only make maybe 50% back, and if HCTRA runs without major tax subsidies, well, that sounds pretty grand for the rest of us that don't use toll roads, no?

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Lots of whining. Don't like toll roads? Don't use them. I find the HCTRA roads useful, and use them. I have a TX Tag, because that's one area where HCTRA is  just not that good. No tax dollars went to the toll roads, and I think it's great that some of the money gets put into roads in the County where there aren't enough tax dollars to perform needed work.

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Actually, the 2017 HCTRA financial statement says $134 million in toll revenue was skimmed off for "funding a county thoroughfare program to increase general mobility."

 

Each of the three original sections of the Sam Houston Tollway generate around $100 million year (actually $105, $89 and $103 million going clockwise from IH 69 Southwest Freeway). Toll payers on these 3 segments are basically bankrolling HCTRA's surplus and slush fund.

 

I can assure you that there really is no realistic alternative to the Sam Houston Tollway from IH 69 to IH 10. Try taking Gessner or Willcrest. It takes a *long* time even in light traffic conditions. So when someone says "Don't use them", that person is disconnected from reality.

 

I think it is good to ask questions about

1) If the tollpayers on the Sam Houston Tollway original 3 segments should be bankrolling these surpluses into perpetuity

2) If tolls should be removed from any or all of those sections at some point in time

Edited by MaxConcrete
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3 hours ago, MaxConcrete said:

Actually, the 2017 HCTRA financial statement says $134 million in toll revenue was skimmed off for "funding a county thoroughfare program to increase general mobility."

 

Each of the three original sections of the Sam Houston Tollway generate around $100 million year (actually $105, $89 and $103 million going clockwise from IH 69 Southwest Freeway). Toll payers on these 3 segments are basically bankrolling HCTRA's surplus and slush fund.

 

I can assure you that there really is no realistic alternative to the Sam Houston Tollway from IH 69 to IH 10. Try taking Gessner or Willcrest. It takes a *long* time even in light traffic conditions. So when someone says "Don't use them", that person is disconnected from reality.

 

I think it is good to ask questions about

1) If the tollpayers on the Sam Houston Tollway original 3 segments should be bankrolling these surpluses into perpetuity

2) If tolls should be removed from any or all of those sections at some point in time

 

Quick research shows this interesting little snippet:

Tolls are set by a 2007 policy that increases rates annually by 2 percent or inflation, whichever is greater. The increases occur in increments of 5 cents for EZ Tag users and 25 cents for cash-payers. While the rate

increase is calculated every year, the increase is not passed on to drivers until it surpasses the minimum increments.

The last increase was in 2012 to 1.75 for the cash cost (from 1.50) with the previous price jump in 2007, therefore it stands to reason that the tolls are to increase again in the near future.

 

How are Gessner and Wilcrest compared to taking the Beltway 8 frontage roads? Unlike the southbound way, you can take the frontage roads northbound for free without having to jump over to the other side.

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I live off Westheimer and the Beltway.

 

Actually before I go into that, let me clarify real quick the names and ownership of the roads, for people that don't know.

 

The actual toll lanes, are called Sam Houston Tollway. "HCTRA" owns these roads, except HCTRA is not an actual separate entity, it is really just a brand name and an "enterprise fund". So, Harris County owns these roads. It is important to note that these toll lanes are NOT one continuous road! Immediately before I-45 heading East, until somewhere after the airport, is a free road owned by the state. Also, several of the stacks are actually owned by the state, which is why where is a free entrance right before the ramps.

 

The free lanes (the feeders), are called Sam Houston Parkway. They are owned by the State of Texas, and because of this, they have a numeric designation from the state: Beltway 8.

If you look at the address for any business on the Beltway - let's look at the West Road Kroger, that address is 9125 W Sam Houston Pkwy N. You will never see an address for a business on the Tollway directly.

 

I will also clarify here that no private entity has any ownership interest in any HCTRA toll road. This is one of the few "right/correct/good" things about the HCTRA system. If you want to see an example of what happens when a private entity is involved look at the Chicago Skyway. Their tolls are atrocious, some of the highest in the country.

 

Now, like I said I live off Westheimer and the Beltway. About every weekend I drive up to see my mom, she lives off 249 and Grant Road.

 

I used to take the tollway, and now I don't. On the weekend, the parkway/Beltway 8 is not that much slower. It costs $4.50 in tolls one way. Compared to the free lanes, and the way I drive, I would be surprised if the toll lanes save 9 minutes. One way to look at that is  that I'd need to earn at least $30 an hour just to break even.

 

Also, after I-10 was rebuilt, they very thoughtfully installed an overpass for Beltway 8, saving at least 5 minutes. Sadly, they did not do this at 290.

 

My experience says nothing of a Monday-Friday commuter though, unfortunately that is the type of person who is proably getting soaked in monthly tolls.

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I don't know why but I can't edit posts. I just wanted to add this.

 

The point of my site is to provide these documents and provoke discussion, and I can already see that happening. That is great!

 

A lot of the documents you can access easily, such as recent HCTRA financials. My goal is to have a complete archive of their financials. HCTRA seems to only provide a few years.

 

I still have dozens more documents to upload.

 

I also want to start collecting information about Linebarger. 

 

I hope this thread has some real and healthy debate, unlike the other thread...

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15 minutes ago, MikeRichardson said:

I live off Westheimer and the Beltway.

 

Actually before I go into that, let me clarify real quick the names and ownership of the roads, for people that don't know.

 

The actual toll lanes, are called Sam Houston Tollway. "HCTRA" owns these roads, except HCTRA is not an actual separate entity, it is really just a brand name and an "enterprise fund". So, Harris County owns these roads. It is important to note that these toll lanes are NOT one continuous road! Immediately before I-45 heading East, until somewhere after the airport, is a free road owned by the state. Also, several of the stacks are actually owned by the state, which is why where is a free entrance right before the ramps.

 

The free lanes (the feeders), are called Sam Houston Parkway. They are owned by the State of Texas, and because of this, they have a numeric designation from the state: Beltway 8.

If you look at the address for any business on the Beltway - let's look at the West Road Kroger, that address is 9125 W Sam Houston Pkwy N. You will never see an address for a business on the Tollway directly.

 

I will also clarify here that no private entity has any ownership interest in any HCTRA toll road. This is one of the few "right/correct/good" things about the HCTRA system. If you want to see an example of what happens when a private entity is involved look at the Chicago Skyway. Their tolls are atrocious, some of the highest in the country.

 

Now, like I said I live off Westheimer and the Beltway. About every weekend I drive up to see my mom, she lives off 249 and Grant Road.

 

I used to take the tollway, and now I don't. On the weekend, the parkway/Beltway 8 is not that much slower. It costs $4.50 in tolls one way. Compared to the free lanes, and the way I drive, I would be surprised if the toll lanes save 9 minutes. One way to look at that is  that I'd need to earn at least $30 an hour just to break even.

 

Also, after I-10 was rebuilt, they very thoughtfully installed an overpass for Beltway 8, saving at least 5 minutes. Sadly, they did not do this at 290.

 

My experience says nothing of a Monday-Friday commuter though, unfortunately that is the type of person who is proably getting soaked in monthly tolls.

 

I'd like to open this post with a quick chart I made of stoplights comparing Sam Houston Parkway with its parallel roads (from I-69 to I-10), and how even by taking the frontage roads, you save yourself half a dozen stoplights.

 

PIzXXVr.png

 

As for your other comments, the Sam Houston Parkway addresses are correct, as technically the Tollway (just like the Katy Tollway) have no building access at all. Interestingly, the Sam Houston Parkway has developed differently than the other highways because of its toll nature, whereas the other freeways are littered with retail and places to eat, Sam Houston predominantly has commercial and light industrial buildings.

 

The "overpass over 10" isn't really comparable to 290. HCTRA was heavily involved in the Katy Freeway rebuild, and the new overpass roads were made possible only because the railroad that paralleled 10 no longer existed. Over at 290, the frontage roads weren't even continuous until about three years ago! The frontage roads split off, became Senate, turn right at the yield lane, and then three stoplights more until you're on Beltway 8 northbound again. The other factors to keep in mind is that the five-stack isn't being completely rebuilt, the railroad stays put, and they already installed the frontage "bypass lanes" for 290 and things like the Gessner exit. That's the primary reason why the fast food restaurants near Senate and 290 met their demise about five years ago, and you can see how somewhat awkwardly built the bridges are--they're not in a straight lane as they curve around support columns and have a fairly steep grade just to clear Hempstead Road's clearance.

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1 hour ago, MikeRichardson said:

I live off Westheimer and the Beltway.

 

Actually before I go into that, let me clarify real quick the names and ownership of the roads, for people that don't know.

 

The actual toll lanes, are called Sam Houston Tollway. "HCTRA" owns these roads, except HCTRA is not an actual separate entity, it is really just a brand name and an "enterprise fund". So, Harris County owns these roads. It is important to note that these toll lanes are NOT one continuous road! Immediately before I-45 heading East, until somewhere after the airport, is a free road owned by the state. Also, several of the stacks are actually owned by the state, which is why where is a free entrance right before the ramps.

 

The free lanes (the feeders), are called Sam Houston Parkway. They are owned by the State of Texas, and because of this, they have a numeric designation from the state: Beltway 8.

If you look at the address for any business on the Beltway - let's look at the West Road Kroger, that address is 9125 W Sam Houston Pkwy N. You will never see an address for a business on the Tollway directly.

 

I will also clarify here that no private entity has any ownership interest in any HCTRA toll road. This is one of the few "right/correct/good" things about the HCTRA system. If you want to see an example of what happens when a private entity is involved look at the Chicago Skyway. Their tolls are atrocious, some of the highest in the country.

 

Now, like I said I live off Westheimer and the Beltway. About every weekend I drive up to see my mom, she lives off 249 and Grant Road.

 

I used to take the tollway, and now I don't. On the weekend, the parkway/Beltway 8 is not that much slower. It costs $4.50 in tolls one way. Compared to the free lanes, and the way I drive, I would be surprised if the toll lanes save 9 minutes. One way to look at that is  that I'd need to earn at least $30 an hour just to break even.

 

Also, after I-10 was rebuilt, they very thoughtfully installed an overpass for Beltway 8, saving at least 5 minutes. Sadly, they did not do this at 290.

 

My experience says nothing of a Monday-Friday commuter though, unfortunately that is the type of person who is proably getting soaked in monthly tolls.

 

 

https://www.google.com/maps/dir/LBB+%26+Associates+Ltd.,+LLP,+10260+Westheimer+Rd+%23310,+Houston,+TX+77042/Claymex+Tile+%26+Brick/@29.9319328,-95.4820653,11.63z/data=!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x8640c336a59e4c77:0xdc581ca70f346948!2m2!1d-95.5559842!2d29.7371273!1m5!1m1!1s0x8640ce880ad6733f:0x4a1780123233c829!2m2!1d-95.5184499!2d29.9395467!3e0

 

Taking the SHT from Westheimer/BW8 to 249 is 16.5 miles and takes 17 minutes. 

Avoiding tolls and taking SHP is the same distance, but takes 31 minutes. So a 14 minute difference, each way or about 30 minutes longer, roundtrip.

With a round trip toll cost of $9, you'd have to make $18/hour to "break-even". Add in the fact that you save AT LEAST $1.00 in gas each way (by not having to stop at any of the 18 stop lights along the way) by taking the tollroad vs the feeder your net cost is closer to $7 - making your "break-even" wage $14/hour. 

 

 

 

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I do appreciate a site that has this kind of information. However, I think the site would do better in simply providing these documents without the filter of conspiracy that seems laced throughout. Could HCTRA do a better job at being more transparent about their intentions, sure. Is HCTRA this phantom menace that the organizers of these materials want to portray? Not really. Its a toll road authority. Its objective is to make money. Wow they are so evil! Why are they suppose to be this benevolent entity? And if they aren't this perfect benevolent entity that these people want a toll road authority to be what is the practical nature of undermining them, or even destroying them?

 

It would be more practical to engage with HCTRA and work with them in a practical and productive manner to make sure the pricing they place on the toll roads will lead to a better product for the city and provide more funding for the city to improve roads at large.

 

In my opinion, I would like all highways to be tolled. We then get rid of the gas tax to offset the difference in costs. Make people who want or need to use the highway pay for the cost of upkeep and keep the people that don't contribute to its continued existence off of it. This is especially the case if nobody is going to be willing to pay more in taxes. Essentially tolling all highways will be a kind of sales tax from what I've thought of it. Interested what other people might have to say. I ultimately think a discussion around how to make HCTRA / tollroads more effective and better overall will be a more constructive conversation than simple conspiracy theories about how evil HCTRA is for making a profit.

Edited by Luminare
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I wonder how much a toll would be to replace gas tax.

Let's assume that its a straight replacement - the state gas tax goes away and is entirely replaced by tolling on freeways, and that freeway maintence and expansion are the only things it was and is paying for.

 

The current gas tax is $0.20/gal.  I believe the current mileage standard is supposed to be 30 mpg for new cars, so I'll use that.  That would mean you would have only have a toll of $0.007 per mile.

 

I don't think you could economically collect that little of a toll.  However, you could still tax by mileage - when your car gets its inspection done, the difference in previous and current odometer reading could be used to assess a "mileage tax" that you'd have to pay when you renew your registration.  If you drove 12,000 miles a year, that would come out to ~$80 you'd have to pay when you renew your registration.

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51 minutes ago, cspwal said:

However, you could still tax by mileage - when your car gets its inspection done, the difference in previous and current odometer reading could be used to assess a "mileage tax" that you'd have to pay when you renew your registration.  If you drove 12,000 miles a year, that would come out to ~$80 you'd have to pay when you renew your registration.

This would only accomplish reducing the tax burden on less fuel efficient vehicles. Meanwhile, you've made tax collection more difficult and likely reduced the amount of tax revenue. At the end of the day, those driving are paying the tax, who cares if its a fuel tax or "mileage tax". 

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19 minutes ago, Texasota said:

Eh, but the gas tax as it currently exists (as I understand it) doesn't actually cover the cost of highway maintenance, so you would really want a higher toll than that to ensure long-term stability (and improve upon the current situation.) 

 

Good point.  I was just trying to run the numbers of a straight gas tax -> toll conversion

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All good points. Just seems like the money that is being taken in by the gas tax just gets smaller as cars get more efficient, yet the amount we drive is still around the same. Of course the other component to making this switch is that you would hope that it motivates other kind of infrastructure. Particularly non-highway variants. Not just talking about rail or buses, but there is a serious lack of cross blvds, and other cut-through road infrastructure that connects different districts that make using highways more of necessity. At the end of the day to many people are dependent on the highway for any kind of travel and at any distance. I-45 and I-10 are some of the most busy highways around with lots of cars traveling through the city. That is a lot of people who aren't paying a dime for continued maintenance while if you were to use other modes of transit you always pay for a ticket that at the end of the day will go back into the existing or to plan for better infrastructure. 

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3 minutes ago, Luminare said:

All good points. Just seems like the money that is being taken in by the gas tax just gets smaller as cars get more efficient, yet the amount we drive is still around the same. Of course the other component to making this switch is that you would hope that it motivates other kind of infrastructure. Particularly non-highway variants. Not just talking about rail or buses, but there is a serious lack of cross blvds, and other cut-through road infrastructure that connects different districts that make using highways more of necessity. At the end of the day to many people are dependent on the highway for any kind of travel and at any distance. I-45 and I-10 are some of the most busy highways around with lots of cars traveling through the city. That is a lot of people who aren't paying a dime for continued maintenance while if you were to use other modes of transit you always pay for a ticket that at the end of the day will go back into the existing or to plan for better infrastructure. 

The only real missing connection that sticks out immediately is around Uptown, where a true replacement to Post Oak Road is a detriment to the traffic in and around the Galleria area, and even Post Oak Road terminates at Hempstead Road, not 290. Some of the other roads have a problem in that they also function as collector roads (that's a lot of how Wilcrest stacks up on lights) beyond being major thoroughfares. The suburbs are missing key connections, and even urban Houston has problems. There is no Inner Loop road (but one) that has access points to the Loop on both ends. Main did, but a few blocks have been converted into pedestrian malls, besides, driving in downtown with its stoplights and the people around it who throw themselves right into traffic (figuratively, of course...most of the time). 18th/20th/Cavalcade almost does but it's a narrow road for most of the way that doesn't lend well to long commuting. Yale and T.C. Jester don't crack the "Buffalo Bayou gap" (River Oaks/golf course/Memorial Park/etc.), but Shepherd/Greenbriar/Durham does, if there wasn't that two-block gap around Rice...and even then it just merges into Fannin, forced down to one lane for another railroad crossing and the subsequent parallel rail line. Stella Link/Weslayan and Buffalo Speedway don't cross the gap (or Kirby). Only Bellaire/Holcombe/OST even clears downtown, but OST turns north at 45, so by the time it hits 610 as Wayside, it's ineffective at east/west travel. Even the great Westheimer (Elgin) doesn't make it, turning north by 45 as Lockwood. Memorial/Harrisburg/Broadway works, technically, but only eastbound and it still has the direction change problem. Only Scott Street/Hirsch makes it through the Loop unscathed, and just three miles short of making it to the North Belt (but it goes through some of the roughest neighborhoods in Harris County).

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  • 2 weeks later...

County Clerk wrote me back. Here is a sample ballot from the 1983 bond election.

 

https://hctra.co/elections/Sample Ballot-September 13, 1983 Harris County Bond Election.pdf

 

I also asked about the voter turnout: votes for and against, that sort of thing. The information isn't readily available but they said they would research it.

 

What I would love to get my hands on: TV news reports from September 1983.

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Still can't edit posts for some stupid reason, or this would be an edit of the above post.

 

The IBTTA newsletters are now cut down to the relevant sections only, with those sections highlighted.

 

The only really interesting one is 1989_7 where they talk about all this free crap they gave to the "25 Millionth Patron".

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  • 1 month later...
  • 5 months later...

I am pleased to announce the availability of every single HCTRA Financial Report since 1983 (excluding 1986).

 

https://hctra.co/financials/ (do not link directly to PDF files because I plan on standardizing all the names so as to make the list easier to use).

 

For FY1986 I'm going to attempt to contact some county officials, that seemed to have been quite successful in getting the turnout information for the 1983 ballot measure. Althought it won't be the county clerk this time, maybe Harris County Treasurer?

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  • The title was changed to HCTRA - A New Information Site
  • 1 year later...

Updates: FY 2019, 2020, and 2021 have been added to the site. (HCTRA has a nasty habit of deleting these after they get too old. We will archive every year in perpetuity.) Also, the PDF names have been standardized. Please feel free to link directly to PDFs in the Financials directory.

https://hctra.co/financials/

On 8/22/2018 at 1:33 PM, Luminare said:

I do appreciate a site that has this kind of information. However, I think the site would do better in simply providing these documents without the filter of conspiracy that seems laced throughout.

Luminare makes a valid point here, I will be updating the main page soon since it now contains inaccurate information.

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I recently posted an analysis of HCTRA's most recent annual report.

http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2021/09/#863387292260407558

In short

  • Harris County Commissioners Court diverted $545 million in toll payments out of HCTRA in FY 2021
  • Revenue was down $304 million (36%) in FY 2021, which ran from March 2020 to Feb 2021 and included the worst of Covid and the freeze shutdown. Revenue should return to near the 2019 value of $855 million in the current fiscal year.
  • Assuming no more revenue disruptions like covid, HCTRA is collecting far more revenue than needed to meet its financial obligations
  • Overcharging toll road customers and diverting the revenue is price-gouging, in my opinion
  • Since Harris County Commissions court seems intent to end expansion and improvement of the toll road system after current obligations are complete, my view is that tolls should be reduced or eliminated once these obligations are done in a few years.
  • The priority for toll removal should be facilities which have generated far more revenue than their original cost, and facilities which are mainly used by Harris County residents. This would be the original three sections of the Sam Houston Tollway which opened between 1988 and 1990 from the Southwest Freeway to the North Freeway, and also possibly the south Hardy Toll Road.
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23 hours ago, MaxConcrete said:

I recently posted an analysis of HCTRA's most recent annual report.

http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2021/09/#863387292260407558

In short

  • Harris County Commissioners Court diverted $545 million in toll payments out of HCTRA in FY 2021
  • Revenue was down $304 million (36%) in FY 2021, which ran from March 2020 to Feb 2021 and included the worst of Covid and the freeze shutdown. Revenue should return to near the 2019 value of $855 million in the current fiscal year.
  • Assuming no more revenue disruptions like covid, HCTRA is collecting far more revenue than needed to meet its financial obligations
  • Overcharging toll road customers and diverting the revenue is price-gouging, in my opinion
  • Since Harris County Commissions court seems intent to end expansion and improvement of the toll road system after current obligations are complete, my view is that tolls should be reduced or eliminated once these obligations are done in a few years.
  • The priority for toll removal should be facilities which have generated far more revenue than their original cost, and facilities which are mainly used by Harris County residents. This would be the original three sections of the Sam Houston Tollway which opened between 1988 and 1990 from the Southwest Freeway to the North Freeway, and also possibly the south Hardy Toll Road.

I have no problem with the tolls continuing. The diverted amounts pay for a lot of other road work that wouldn't get done. And, you can avoid paying tolls by taking alternate routes. No one is forced to take a toll road.

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On 11/19/2021 at 5:24 PM, Ross said:

I have no problem with the tolls continuing. The diverted amounts pay for a lot of other road work that wouldn't get done. And, you can avoid paying tolls by taking alternate routes. No one is forced to take a toll road.

What if you instead looked at it this way?

I personally almost never take the toll roads. I go to see my mom almost every week for Sunday dinner (driving from Westheimer to 249), and those trips occur on State Highway Beltway 8 (aka the feeder), instead of the toll road. Out of ~100 trips (50 x 2) in the past year, I took the toll road only twice due to extenuating circumstances.

However, I still benefit from "[the diversion of] money from HCTRA to use on other government functions, with initial withdrawals being used to supplement flood control funds" as stated by "Houston Freeways author Oscar Slotboom" on MaxConcrete's blog.

I am enjoying those improvements without having really contributed any money whatsoever (not even $10 total in total tolls spent). 

So is that like I am not paying taxes in those cases???

I don't see at _all_ how it's fair that the toll road users alone should be paying for these massive improvements to flood control and roads unrelated to the toll roads. If we want to improve non-toll roads and flood control we need to pass the appropriate tax increases and/or bonds (as we did with the flood bond post Harvey, that I voted for).

There is an infamous rumor that HCTRA promised to make the toll roads free after the bonds were paid off. In fact, the rumor is true.

Unfortunately, the only original proof is on an old ABC13 article, which I link to from my alternate site at https://hctra.us

Fortunately, HCTRA actually provides proof in every contemporary financial report they have published! Here is their statement from the FY2010 report (source http://hctra.co/financials/Toll Road FY2010.pdf):

Quote

When all of the debt service, as discussed in Note 7, has been paid or provided for in a trust fund, the Toll Roads will become a part of the State of Texas Highway System.

But HCTRA keeps "[diverting] money from HCTRA to use on other government functions". Hundreds of millions of dollars a year! How could they *ever* pay off their obligations in Note 7 under such conditions?

Not to mention the "pooling of projects" (exact term might be different) which occurred in a commissioners' court meeting approximately two weeks after 9/11 (source http://hctra.co/commissioners/0119ag.pdf), which basically blends the financials for all of the toll roads all together instead of each one being a separate project. That makes the proposal on MaxConcrete's blog "toll removal should be facilities which have generated far more revenue than their original cost... the original three sections of the Sam Houston Tollway" almost if not completely impossible!

The entire System, in my opinion, has been carefully orchestrated to be never-ending, and to make up for shortfalls in the County budget that are more appropriately addressed by other means (issuance of bonds and/or tax increase and/or reduction of budget in other areas, etc.)

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