Boondoggle

Ever get the feeling that the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) and TxDOT are flat-out lying to you about the supposed nirvana that will be a future Central Texas criss-crossed by toll roads?

Yeah, me too.

Well, here’s the proof. Austin American Statesman reporter Ben Wear cajoled a colleague to drive I-35 during rush hour while he cruised worry-free down the SH 130 toll road and then record who arrived at the toll road’s southern terminus first. According to Wear:

The tollways have been sold as a speedier alternative to the ravages of I-35 rush hour traffic. Toll road proponents have said that truckers, in particular, will flock to Texas 130 (and, eventually, Texas 45 Southeast) because time is money to them. Even with a $24 cash toll for truckers ($6 cash for passenger cars and pickups, $5.40 with a toll tag), the argument goes, it’s worth it to save the time.

So I decided to test that claim. I’d drive the tollway during rush hour and recruit a colleague to drive I-35 at the same time, then compare notes.

* * *

So last Monday morning, after synchronizing our watches on a frontage road just north of Texas 130’s departure from I-35, and agreeing that both of us would drive no faster than 70 mph in unrestricted traffic, we headed off, me to the tollway and Andrea on I-35. Who got to the intersection of FM 1327 and I-35 first?

* * *

Taking the toll road cost me nine minutes. And the toll I paid. But that’s not all it cost.

My total mileage: 54.8 miles, 11.5 miles more than the direct I-35 route. My Taurus tells me that I got 23.7 miles per gallon, so the extra mileage cost me a little less than a half-gallon of gas. That’s another $1.75 or so. I averaged 60.6 mph, Andrea 57.7 mph.

So, at rush hour, I paid almost $6 to get there 20 percent slower.

Fantastic. Small wonder the brain trust at TxDot was recently forced to admit a $1 billion “error” in its budget forecasting.

Thx to the Statesman’s Ben Wear

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