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Harris County Toll Road-funded trails


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I'm not opposed to using tax money to build trails and such.  But if a toll road has paid for itself, why not get rid of the tolls?  That's what Connecticut did with Interstate 95.

Seems like a taxing/tolling authority is trying to find ways to keep itself employed.

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Well, even if there's a surplus, a road has never finished "paying for itself." Highways are expensive to maintain.

But this project is pretty specifically intended to address access issues *caused by* or exacerbated by the toll roads, so seems completely appropriate to me. 

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I’m totally for this. I’ve also never had an issue with toll roads/toll lanes, either (provided there were alternatives for people that prefer not to pay, like feeders or non-tolled lanes). I think it’s a great use of surplus money and will really help in building out the trail network around town.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/11/2022 at 2:58 PM, editor said:

I'm not opposed to using tax money to build trails and such.  But if a toll road has paid for itself, why not get rid of the tolls?  That's what Connecticut did with Interstate 95.

Seems like a taxing/tolling authority is trying to find ways to keep itself employed.

And that's what Harris County voters were told would happen back in the early 80s when the bond election to fund the initial building of Hardy and the West Belt took place. I remember very well the TV ads that promised the roads would be free once they were paid off. Now a lot of HCTRA and other county officials (including Ed Emmett) like to gaslight anyone who tries to remind them of that promise, claiming that's an urban myth and they're misremembering, that they were never promised to be free, but in 2012 ABC 13 showed a brochure published by the HCTRA back then that said "When both roads combined have covered their costs, the roads will become free public highways." Hardy cost $287 million, that was made in tolls by 2004, by 2012 it had made $617 million in tolls. A section of the West Belt cost $72 million, had earned $865 million by 2012. Another nine mile stretch of the west belt that cost $135 million had made more than $1 billion by 2012. And instead of at least going down, tolls keep going up, by 25 cents every few years. I was shocked when I moved to Dallas for school in the mid 90s with how much cheaper tolls were on the Dallas tollways than on SH. And they're still much cheaper, many aren't that much more expensive now than the were back then. The modal toll at any plaza or on/off ramp on SH is $1.50 with toll tag. Up in Dallas, there are many, many tolls under 50 cents.

On 5/11/2022 at 3:06 PM, samagon said:

are they going to put toll booths on the paths?

I'd still like to see money from HCTRA be put into light rail, or commuter rail.

Ditto, especially the latter.h

On 5/11/2022 at 3:11 PM, Texasota said:

Well, even if there's a surplus, a road has never finished "paying for itself." Highways are expensive to maintain.

But this project is pretty specifically intended to address access issues *caused by* or exacerbated by the toll roads, so seems completely appropriate to me. 

Yes, but once you've paid off the initial capital investment, which HCTRA did years ago, you should at least be able to lower toll costs, have fewer tolls, and still pay for maintenance. As I said above, look how low most of Dallas's tolls are. But instead, HCTRA consistently raised tolls every few years during the first 30 years of its existence, and usually by 25 cents every time.

I disagree with it being appropriate, Harris County Toll Road Authority's mandate is pretty clearly and narrowly defined it's about area vehicular transit. In a city as spread out as Houston, with weather as sweltering as ours as long as it is, pedestrian and biking/scootering trails are never going to be a significant part of our transit plant. Revenue raised on toll roads should be used to pay for maintenance of toll roads. If there is a significant surplus, that tells me that tolls should be lower. There are other agencies responsible for hike and bike trails and outdoor recreation in this county. A big problem in this county is too much mission creep in too many public agencies resulting in a lot of overlap and redundancy and poor planning. Law enforcement is one example, especially, for instance, traffic enforcement. On any freeway in Houston you might find yourself pulled over by a Houston police officer, a Harris County sheriff's deputy,  a Harris County constable's deputy, a METRO police officer, or TXDPS. 

On 5/11/2022 at 3:53 PM, BEES?! said:

I’m totally for this. I’ve also never had an issue with toll roads/toll lanes, either (provided there were alternatives for people that prefer not to pay, like feeders or non-tolled lanes). I think it’s a great use of surplus money and will really help in building out the trail network around town.

Be careful what you wish for. The revenue toll roads draw puts dollar signs into politicians eyes and encourages not only the building of more new toll roads, but the conversion of free highways into tollways, reducing the number of alternatives for people who don't want to pay. Try driving between Orlando and Miami without using toll roads. A lot of highways on the outskirts of Austin have been converted to toll roads. 249 in the Willowbrook/Champions area almost became a toll road a few years ago, it took locals fighting tooth and nail to keep it from happening. This wasn't just a highway people used once or twice a day to get to and from work, it is a road a local person might get on several times a day to run chores like taking kids to school and soccer practice, and go to the grocery store. Look too at the Katy managed lanes bringing revenue to HCTRA, on an Interstate no less. 20 years ago, there was a real opportunity to alleviate congestion and use mass transit solutions to reduce air pollution and climate change. There was an existing rail ROW that could have been used for commuter rail, or used as space for expansion to allow room for commuter rail in the center of I-10. Instead, what did TxDOT do? build over the ROW with wider freeway, and let HCTRA turn the center of the freeway into a revenue generator. And letting single people pay tolls along with those who drive 2+ for free in the HOV lane bastardizes the purpose of an HOV lane, which is to reduce vehicle traffic in Clean Air Act Nonattainment Zones like Harris County.

All this plan is, is just PR for HCTRA, an attempt to justify the surplus revenue it draws from too high and too many tolls, with feel-good "look what we're doing for the community" along with greenwashing of the climate change problem toll roads exacerbate. Toll roads exacerbate climate change by short-circuiting feedbacks that encourage cities and regions to seek real options to reduce single vehicle transit. Build more toll roads to reduce congestion, then congestion becomes less pressing a reason to work towards viable mass transit options. 

Edited by Reefmonkey
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It's easy to blame HCTRA, but the real issue is the Lege being entirely unwilling to raise gas taxes (can't anger the trucking companies), and having little-to-no interest in properly funding transit (rural and suburban voters don't like it).

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1 hour ago, ADCS said:

It's easy to blame HCTRA, but the real issue is the Lege being entirely unwilling to raise gas taxes (can't anger the trucking companies), and having little-to-no interest in properly funding transit (rural and suburban voters don't like it).

since our state and national legislatures have no term limits, neither group really wants to commit potential political suicide by being labeled as the group that raised gas taxes.

the gasoline tax (and most use taxes) in and of itself though is a bit of a regressive tax (especially since the way our governments built out the infrastructure, alternate forms of transportation that do exist aren't really a replacement for single occupant vehicles). it can be said though, that as regressive taxes go, a gas tax isn't horrible, if I can't afford gas, I just get a car with higher fuel efficiency, and luckily, most of the economy cars are the cheaper ones. so I can get a car that nets 30+ mpg for cheap, vs an escalate that maybe cracks 15 with a tailwind. so as regressive taxes go, gas tax isn't horrible.

considering the push for EVs though, the gas tax will have to be replaced soon, or augmented. I'd love to see something that measures miles driven and factors in the weight of the vehicle to come up with how much tax liability someone owes. when you go in for your yearly inspection, you could be given a tax report based on miles driven since your last inspection. the tax could be paid as part of the registration process. seems pretty simple to me.

as it relates to toll roads, the use cost is totally optional if you choose to live in an area that is serviced by a toll road, you know exactly into what you are entering as far as a use tax. otherwise, toll roads are sometimes a convenience to create a shorter trip, but are not necessary.

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, ADCS said:

It's easy to blame HCTRA, but the real issue is the Lege being entirely unwilling to raise gas taxes (can't anger the trucking companies), and having little-to-no interest in properly funding transit (rural and suburban voters don't like it).

Very true, I was going to go off on the issue of gas taxes as a much-underutilized way to disincentivize private vehicle use, and fund mass transit instead of just more roads, but I figured my diatribe was long enough.

Edited by Reefmonkey
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40 minutes ago, Reefmonkey said:

Very true, I was going to go off on the issue of gas taxes as a much-underutilized way to disincentivize private vehicle use, and fund mass transit instead of just more roads, but I figured my diatribe was long enough.

lol.

I think that if you were to draw up a Venn diagram of people who don't already have a strong opinion one way or the other on the subject, and members of this forum, there is probably no intersection of those two groups. at which point it's a bit like yelling at clouds, which I admit I get sucked into on the i45 thread from time to time.

TXDOT changed their name many years ago to be the department of Transportation, but when you read their charter, they are singularly focused on single occupancy vehicles.

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3 hours ago, Reefmonkey said:

Very true, I was going to go off on the issue of gas taxes as a much-underutilized way to disincentivize private vehicle use, and fund mass transit instead of just more roads, but I figured my diatribe was long enough.

Wouldn't disincentivizing private (gas) vehicle use tend to decrease total revenue from gas taxes?  No doubt, though, the current administration's preference for high gas prices will increase demand for public transit.  At least until the voters are polled on it.

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1 hour ago, august948 said:

Wouldn't disincentivizing private (gas) vehicle use tend to decrease total revenue from gas taxes?  No doubt, though, the current administration's preference for high gas prices will increase demand for public transit.  At least until the voters are polled on it.

It’s all a question of elasticity, Augie! Surprised you didn’t suggest a gas tax version of the Laffer Curve, buddy!

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1 hour ago, august948 said:

Wouldn't disincentivizing private (gas) vehicle use tend to decrease total revenue from gas taxes?  No doubt, though, the current administration's preference for high gas prices will increase demand for public transit.  At least until the voters are polled on it.

Fuel tax revenue is flat, and doesn't cover essential maintenance in Texas. Roads cost money.

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9 hours ago, samagon said:

since our state and national legislatures have no term limits, neither group really wants to commit potential political suicide by being labeled as the group that raised gas taxes.

the gasoline tax (and most use taxes) in and of itself though is a bit of a regressive tax (especially since the way our governments built out the infrastructure, alternate forms of transportation that do exist aren't really a replacement for single occupant vehicles). it can be said though, that as regressive taxes go, a gas tax isn't horrible, if I can't afford gas, I just get a car with higher fuel efficiency, and luckily, most of the economy cars are the cheaper ones. so I can get a car that nets 30+ mpg for cheap, vs an escalate that maybe cracks 15 with a tailwind. so as regressive taxes go, gas tax isn't horrible.

considering the push for EVs though, the gas tax will have to be replaced soon, or augmented. I'd love to see something that measures miles driven and factors in the weight of the vehicle to come up with how much tax liability someone owes. when you go in for your yearly inspection, you could be given a tax report based on miles driven since your last inspection. the tax could be paid as part of the registration process. seems pretty simple to me.

as it relates to toll roads, the use cost is totally optional if you choose to live in an area that is serviced by a toll road, you know exactly into what you are entering as far as a use tax. otherwise, toll roads are sometimes a convenience to create a shorter trip, but are not necessary.

Honestly think it would be easier/more efficient/more progressive to convert the gas volume tax to an energy quantity tax (per gigajoule or kilowatt-hour sold).

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Posted (edited)
4 hours ago, august948 said:

Wouldn't disincentivizing private (gas) vehicle use tend to decrease total revenue from gas taxes?  No doubt, though, the current administration's preference for high gas prices will increase demand for public transit.  At least until the voters are polled on it.

the Netherlands is kind of an interesting use case example.

they have a really amazing network of rail, but also a very extensive road network, and of course the bike paths, but they don't really enter into this example.

they have a very cyclical period of rail use and car use, and it's all tied to cost. if the government raises taxes on car use (through gas tax, and vehicle ownership tax), people shift to the rail network to move around, then they aren't making enough on the roads to fund the needed improvements, so they raise the rates for the rail network, which then shifts people back into cars, and thus the cycle is renewed. even when people commute via car, they still usually land in a park and ride on the outskirts of the city, then take a tram, metro, or a stoptrein for their final leg.

but yeah, to bring it back to your example, as the car use drops because taxes are too high, they have to pay for maintenance somehow, so they just adjust the rail prices, which entices more people to drive, which creates more traffic.

the beautiful thing is, the users have the luxury to shift use as the prices fluctuate. and the fietsers are just watching the whole thing and shrugging.

the Netherlands is on a different level though. they give every student a free train pass. they can travel anywhere within the network free of charge. could you imagine if someone tried that in the USA? lol. why are you attacking my freedom by making me pay for a student to get to school on public transportation!

Edited by samagon
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5 hours ago, mattyt36 said:

It’s all a question of elasticity, Augie! Surprised you didn’t suggest a gas tax version of the Laffer Curve, buddy!

That's what I had in mind but thought I'd see what others came up with.

4 hours ago, ADCS said:

Honestly think it would be easier/more efficient/more progressive to convert the gas volume tax to an energy quantity tax (per gigajoule or kilowatt-hour sold).

Wouldn't that still be regressive?

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7 hours ago, august948 said:

Wouldn't that still be regressive?

Only so far as every sales tax is regressive, but I don't think you'll see much political will here for a wealth/income tax or ad valorem tax on vehicles.

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21 hours ago, samagon said:

considering the push for EVs though, the gas tax will have to be replaced soon, or augmented. I'd love to see something that measures miles driven and factors in the weight of the vehicle to come up with how much tax liability someone owes. when you go in for your yearly inspection, you could be given a tax report based on miles driven since your last inspection. the tax could be paid as part of the registration process. seems pretty simple to me.

I've heard talk about how to get everyone to do their fair share of funding roads as EVs become more commonplace, and this is the most reasonable suggestion I've seen yet.

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  • 3 weeks later...

 

The Destination Trail is a proposed hike and bike trail spanning approximately 31 miles
within Harris County to the cities of Houston, South Houston, and Webster, Texas. The
trail will serve over 270,000 people within a mile of the trail and is within walking
distance to 17 schools, 25 parks, and countless culturally and historically significant
places along the way. This effort is being led by Harris County and the Harris County
Toll Road Authority.

 

https://www.click2houston.com/traffic/2022/06/08/destination-trail-new-31-mile-hike-bike-trail-system/

 

https://tei.mysocialpinpoint.com/destination-trail

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On 5/18/2022 at 8:25 AM, ADCS said:

It's easy to blame HCTRA, but the real issue is the Lege being entirely unwilling to raise gas taxes (can't anger the trucking companies), and having little-to-no interest in properly funding transit (rural and suburban voters don't like it).

It isn't even suburban voters (decent support for METRO bond here in Houston) it is just rural voters who need their roads subsidized by the rest of the state.

On 5/18/2022 at 10:31 AM, samagon said:

since our state and national legislatures have no term limits, neither group really wants to commit potential political suicide by being labeled as the group that raised gas taxes.

the gasoline tax (and most use taxes) in and of itself though is a bit of a regressive tax (especially since the way our governments built out the infrastructure, alternate forms of transportation that do exist aren't really a replacement for single occupant vehicles). it can be said though, that as regressive taxes go, a gas tax isn't horrible, if I can't afford gas, I just get a car with higher fuel efficiency, and luckily, most of the economy cars are the cheaper ones. so I can get a car that nets 30+ mpg for cheap, vs an escalate that maybe cracks 15 with a tailwind. so as regressive taxes go, gas tax isn't horrible.

considering the push for EVs though, the gas tax will have to be replaced soon, or augmented. I'd love to see something that measures miles driven and factors in the weight of the vehicle to come up with how much tax liability someone owes. when you go in for your yearly inspection, you could be given a tax report based on miles driven since your last inspection. the tax could be paid as part of the registration process. seems pretty simple to me.

as it relates to toll roads, the use cost is totally optional if you choose to live in an area that is serviced by a toll road, you know exactly into what you are entering as far as a use tax. otherwise, toll roads are sometimes a convenience to create a shorter trip, but are not necessary.

Gas tax + car registration is down to 20% of TXDOT's budget IIRC. That is still billions of course. The mileage thing is hard because you are relying on a private person/company for typing in mileage who makes $20 per car. There are lots of incentives there for shenanigans. The real answer is dropping the gas tax and instituting a carbon tax, but I digress...

On 5/19/2022 at 7:35 AM, ADCS said:

Only so far as every sales tax is regressive, but I don't think you'll see much political will here for a wealth/income tax or ad valorem tax on vehicles.

The more I read the more I think that an income tax is the only "fair" and less regressive method. And it is definitely not happening.

On 5/19/2022 at 7:47 AM, Reefmonkey said:

I've heard talk about how to get everyone to do their fair share of funding roads as EVs become more commonplace, and this is the most reasonable suggestion I've seen yet.

The word fair is the tricky one here.

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8 hours ago, wilcal said:

The real answer is dropping the gas tax and instituting a carbon tax, but I digress...

Should tax based on weight as heavier vehicles cause more wear.  

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3 hours ago, BeerNut said:

Should tax based on weight as heavier vehicles cause more wear.  

Wear on roads increases by the CUBE (not just square) of the increase in weight, so I really don't understand why vehicle registration fees aren't more affected by the weight of the vehicle.  Fees should go up by the cube of the increase in weight.  For toll roads (to keep this topical...), they go by axles, which helps but is still a poor proxy since an extra axle can actually reduce wear.  Maybe weight divided by number of wheels, since more wheels/axles distributes the weight better to reduce wear.

I think that, for example, vehicle registration on a 6000 pound SUV should be 2*2*2 = 8 times the registration fee of a 3000 pound subcompact car, for example, to account for the increase in wear on roads.  Similarly, the registration fee of a 5000 pound electric large sedan should be 1.25*1.25*1.25 = 1.95 times the registration fee of a 4000 pound regular non-electric large sedan.

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immediate results!

https://www.click2houston.com/traffic/2022/06/08/destination-trail-new-31-mile-hike-bike-trail-system/

well, results, planned expansions.

Quote

Harris County, along with the Harris County Toll Road Authority, is introducing the Destination Trail: a 31-mile proposed hike and bike trail within Harris County featuring countless historic and culturally significant sites and connecting the cities of Houston, South Houston, and Webster.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The Destination Trail is approximately 31 miles
  • Nearly 270,000 people live within a mile of the Destination Trail
  • At least 17 schools are within walking distance (.25 miles) from the Destination Trail
  • 25 parks are within walking distance (.25) from The Destination Trail
  • The trail is divided into five segments:
    • Segment 1 (Current Segment): Emancipation park to Mason Park along the existing Columbia Tap Trail and Brays Bayou Trail (9.7 miles)
    • Segment 2: Mason Park to Sims Bayou (2.3 miles)
    • Segment 3a: Sims Bayou to FM 1959 (9 miles)
    • Segment 3b: FM 1959 to Clear Creek (7.5 miles)
    • Segment 4: Emancipation Park to Bethel Baptist Church (2.5 miles)

there's also a survey on the page.

https://tei.mysocialpinpoint.com/destination-trail

pretty big news, you'll be able to ride from Emancipation park out past Nasa.

Edited by samagon
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