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Extremely High North Tarrant Express Tolls Frustrating Some Drivers

By Ken Kalthoff Published April 11, 2023 Updated on April 11, 2023 at 6:51 pm

Managed toll lanes are a way for North Texas drivers to speed past congestion, for a price.

NBC 5 found extremely high toll prices on North Tarrant Express Toll lanes that have made some drivers angry.

North Tarrant Express includes segments of Northeast Loop 820, Texas 183 and Texas 121 in North Richland Hills, Hurst, Bedford, Euless, Fort Worth and Irving.

Tolls on the express lanes are variable to restrict demand and keep drivers moving at least 50 miles an hour depending on how busy traffic is in the free highway lanes.

A price of $24 was posted for a westbound trip during rush hour last week.

“$24 for one gate? That’s absolutely insane. They need to do something about this,” driver Ryan White said.

Driver Shelby Hartman said she avoids the toll lanes.

“It’s so expensive, it’s just not worth it,” she said. “You get charged again the farther you go. It’s really bad sometimes.”

Private companies put up two-thirds of the money to build the North Tarrant Express and collect the tolls.

The Northeast Loop 820 segment in North Richland Hills has just two free main lanes, which always seem to back up.

“I think they purposefully designed it to where you’re going to want to take the toll,” driver Hunter Mixson said.

State Representative Ramon Romero, a Fort Worth Democrat said he has heard the managed lane complaints and witnessed the high tolls.

“We wanted better highways, better travel times and in turn what we’ve got is just higher cost for our highways and in a lot of cases the same type of congestion,” Romero said. “Why did you enter into this for-profit deal and you did not increase the capacity on any of our general purpose lanes?”

Variable-priced managed toll lanes have been added to many North Texas freeways.

Some, like the lanes on I-30 between Tarrant County and Dallas, are owned and operated by the state and not by the private company.

Michael Morris, Transportation Director with the North Central Texas Council of Governments, credits the network of lanes with improving mobility for North Texas drivers in recent years as compared to other metropolitan areas.

“We’ve grown by 2 million people and our congestion has hardly increased. There’s lots of reasons for it but the primary reason is dynamically priced managed lanes,” Morris said. “No one else in the country has the option of having guaranteed speeds of 50 or 60 miles an hour on their major corridors.”

Morris shared graphics that support his claims. One shows how North Texas congestion levels hovered near 15% since 2008 as the population rose from 6 million to nearly 8 million people. Another compares this region with others in the US. A third shows which managed lane segments are built and managed by private companies and which are TxDOT.

Morris said the North Tarrant Express is an exception because traffic volume exceeded expectations.

He said the deal requires the private company to provide $1.5 billion in additional lanes at no cost to taxpayers, which will help speed traffic and reduce tolls.

“The private sector pays and the tolls go down,” Morris said.

That job would widen a single toll lane in each direction in portions of Irving and Euless and add more freeway lanes all the way from Hwy 161 in Irving to I-35W North Freeway in Fort Worth.

North Tarrant Express spokesman Robert Hinkle said in an email that the company only plans to start on $350 million of work next year. He said the Texas Department of Transportation has not yet approved the bigger plan.

Hinkle said there is a toll cap of $1.06 a mile but that the contract with TxDOT calls for pushing past that to keep the managed lane traffic moving at 50 miles per hour, hence the $24 toll seen on one very busy day.

“The solution is to get the contractor and TxDOT on the same page and go build the $1.5 billion worth of improvements,” Morris said.

In the meantime, the transportation director calls for travel time signs on the roadway that would help drivers decide whether the extreme tolls are worth the money. He suggests exiting highways and GPS planning another route when confronted with times of extreme tolls.

"Lowering the tolls I think needs to be done for sure," driver Hunter Mixson said.

Representative Romero said he is concerned about talk of more managed lanes for the DFW region.

“We should be frustrated. We should demand answers and above all, we should say ‘no mas.’ I’ve had enough. Don’t continue to destroy my highway. Don’t enter into any more of these deals,” he said.

Morris said current state policy forbids additional managed toll lanes at this time.

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