No tolls in I-10 expansion plan

Adding direct connections to La Cantera Parkway would be shelved
By Katherine Blunt STAFF WRITER

   Expanding part of Interstate 10 might go the way of U.S. 281: no tolls. The Texas Department of Transportation on Friday unveiled a new proposal to add lanes to I-10 without tolls. This comes less than three months after the Metropolitan Planning Organization resolved to keep U.S 281 free.   The proposal, presented to the MPO’s Technical Advisory Committee, will be up for discussion at the MPO board meeting Monday. The organization could vote on it in January.   The proposal could replace an existing plan to add two tolled freeway lanes in each direction on I-10 between Ralph Fair Road and La Cantera Parkway, a $70 million undertaking. The plan also involves adding direct connectors between La Cantera and Loop 1604 for about $130 million.   The MPO has enough money to fund the four new lanes, but only $71.8 million is available to complete the direct connectors. Tolls would pay for the remaining $58.2 million.   Instead, TxDOT is proposing to eliminate that shortage by removing the direct connectors from the project, enabling the MPO to fund the new lanes without toll revenue.   “We would be deferring the direct connectors to a future project,” said Jonathan Bean, committee chairman and director of transportation, planning and development for TxDOT.   Like the toll plan, the new proposal would add two lanes in each direction. One would be reserved for high-occupancy vehicles, such as buses and carpool vehicles, and the other would be open to all traffic.   The proposal resembles a plan to expand U.S. 281, once slated for tolls. In September, the MPO resolved to use Proposition 7 funding to convert the section of that road between Loop 1604 and Borgfeld Drive into a six-lane freeway with two HOV lanes.   Proposition 7, a constitutional amendment that increases state transportation funding, passed in November. Starting in 2018, it will add $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund. After 2020, it is projected to add an additional $430 million in vehicle sales tax revenue.   Proposition 7 funding would not be needed to add the new lanes on I-10. But it could be used to build the direct connectors at some point.   “Once Prop. 7 passed, it provided more flexibility locally in how we implement current plans, and this is an example of that,” said Bexar County Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Wolff, a former MPO chairman.   Both U.S. 281 and I-10 arose in discussions about how Proposition 7 might affect the region’s toll plan, a list of underfunded projects that will cost $3.9 billion to complete. When the MPO voted to strip tolls from U.S. 281, several local officials predicted that the I-10 project could be the next to change.   In June, Wolff and others sent a letter to TxDOT’s governing body, the Texas Transportation Commission, requesting funding to complete both U.S. 281 and I-10 without tolls. TxDOT included the letter in its presentation of the I-10 proposal.   “If you’re not going to toll U.S. 281, you’re not going to toll I-10 either, from a fairness principle, as well as a political one,” Wolff said.   His precinct encompasses the I-10 project.   If the MPO adopts the non-toll plan, the project could be complete by the summer of 2019. It would take about a year longer to finish if the direct connectors were included.   Twitter: @katherineblunt



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