Plenty of motorists choose to enter the managed toll lanes on eastbound Loop 820 in Haltom City Monday, even though the toll rate at the time is $3.45. (Oct. 31, 2016) Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com
Plenty of motorists choose to enter the managed toll lanes on eastbound Loop 820 in Haltom City Monday, even though the toll rate at the time is $3.45. (Oct. 31, 2016) Paul Moseley pmoseley@star-telegram.com

Your Commute

Fort Worth area toll lanes grabbed $19 million in three months

November 01, 2016 11:30 AM

UPDATED November 01, 2016 05:46 PM

How much money are the managed toll lanes in Northeast Tarrant County generating?

Try about $210,000 per day.

That’s not chump change for the toll lanes on Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 “Airport Freeway,” which have experienced steady growth since they opened two years ago.

Drivers want to get through this 13 miles as quickly as possible.

Robert Hinkle, North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners

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The TEXPress lanes generated $19.1 million in revenue during the three months ended Sept. 30, according to a North Tarrant Express quarterly report published last week. That works out to about $6.36 million a month — or roughly $210,000 per day.

Of course, the price of individual tolls varies by factors such as time of day. Motorists may use the lanes for less than a dollar at night and on weekends, but can be charged $3 or more to drive just a few miles during rush hour. Prices are raised during times of high usage to keep traffic flowing.

“The project is working. It spreads the traffic out, and creates more mobility,” said Robert Hinkle, spokesman for North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, the group of companies responsible for managing the 13-mile corridor north of Fort Worth. “Drivers want to get through this 13 miles as quickly as possible, whether they want to get to a meeting or make a delivery or just get to a ball game.”

The $2.5 billion project, which was completed in October 2014, included the reconstruction of main lanes and modernization of frontage roads and ramps. Two toll lanes were added in each direction while existing lanes remained toll-free — in essence giving motorists the option of driving toll-free and dealing with traffic or paying a toll for more space on the road.

Several of the same companies that built North Tarrant Express are now working on a major makeover of Interstate 35W, which will include the reconstruction of main lanes, frontage roads and ramps and the addition of toll lanes from downtown Fort Worth to the AllianceTexas area. Parts of the new I-35W are expected to open next year, while others will remain under construction until 2018.

Follow the money

So who gets the toll proceeds?

The money goes to the companies that make up North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, including Cintra U.S., the United States division of a worldwide toll and parking company based in Spain.

But the money isn’t just lining their pockets. The partners are responsible for managing and maintaining the road for 52 years. They must maintain the pavement and other features at a high level, and add non-toll lanes as traffic warrants, according to the group’s contract with the Texas Department of Transportation.

The money also goes toward paying back a federal transportation loan, as well as bond debt.

The North Texas Tollway Authority, which issues TollTags in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, has nothing to do with the road ownership but does get a small fee for collecting the tolls electronically.

Irresistible

When Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 re-opened in October 2014 after several years of construction, many motorists swore they would never use the toll lanes, and would instead confine their travels to the toll-free lanes and frontage roads.

ATTENTION: the left turn lane on Denton hwy when getting onto loop 820, IS A TOLL LANE. THE RIGHT TURN LANE IS NOT. STOP MERGING YOU TURDS.

— Reagan (@ReaganPolarbear) October 26, 2016

But many drivers have since found the toll lanes to be an irresistible way to pay a few dollars and buy their way around congestion on the toll-free lanes.

Yet, a few complaints remain. For example, a woman billing herself on Twitter as @ReaganPolarbear noted that it’s a common problem for motorists to use the toll on-ramps at Loop 820 and U.S. 377, also known as Denton Highway, as a way to cut into line in the non-toll lanes.

“ATTENTION: the left turn lane on Denton hwy when getting onto loop 820 IS A TOLL LANE. THE RIGHT TURN LANE IS NOT. STOP MERGING ...”

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

North Tarrant Express

▪ Traffic has increased 25 percent during the past year.

▪ Average tolls are $1.80 to $2.

▪ As many as 200,000 vehicles per day using the Loop 820/Texas 121/183 corridor, including traffic on toll lanes and toll-free lanes.

▪ Average speeds have increased by 15 percent across the corridor since the construction was completed.