Thursday, July 21, 2016

Border Highway Tolls Could Be Ending

By Armando Landin

Drivers on the Cesar Chavez Border Highway in El Paso's Lower Valley could see the tolled third lane become a free lane in the coming years. That's according to recent moves by the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority (CRRMA).

The Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority is in talks with State officials to remove tolls from the inner lane of the Cesar Chavez Border Highway in El Paso. (CRRMA)

The CRRMA has directed staff to proceed with a plan that would eventually remove tolls from the nine-mile stretch of Loop 375 between US-54 and the Zaragoza Port of Entry along the United States/Mexico border.

CRRMA officials have been in talks with the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) to discuss different scenarios that would allow the tolls to be removed. Operation and maintenance would shift from the CRRMA to TXDOT under any approved plan.

(Previously: Toll Signs Go Up on Border Highway)

According to the tentative plan, the CRRMA's operations and maintenance debt in the project would be shifted to the future Border West Expressway currently under construction from Downtown El Paso to the West Side. This means its ownership in the Border West Expressway would be reduced by between 0.4 and 2.0%.

Ultimate removal of the tolls could prove complicated as there are at least 15 agreements in place into which the CRRMA entered as part of the development and operation of the project.

The toll lanes of the Border Highway in El Paso could become free if an agreement is approved. They currently stretch nine miles along Loop 375. (CRRMA)

Construction on the "managed" toll lane in each direction was completed in late 2013 and is the first tolled expressway project to open in El Paso. The existing Loop 375 main lanes remained free.

(Previously: CRRMA Readies for Opening of Toll Lanes)

Talk of removing the tolls from the Border Highway first surfaced in 2015 when State Representative Joe Pickett expressed his intent to ask transportation officials to remove the tolls, arguing that income from tolls was not enough to cover maintenance and operation costs.

Pickett told local media that opening the lanes to everyone would help further ease congestion and was now affordable due to statewide propositions approved by voters that have added billions of transportation dollars to the State's coffers.

Though discussions are ongoing and any final agreement to remove tolls would have to be approved by TXDOT and the CRRMA, recent developments shed light on the form that the agreement will take.

There is no timeline yet for how quickly tolls will be removed if the agreement is approved, though it would require re-striping and removal of toll infrastructure and signage.