Congestion pricing on Katy Freeway?

April 8, 2008 6:07:49 PM PDT
'Congestion pricing' -- its a term Houstonians came to know and hate last year when rates were almost doubled during peak times along the Westpark Tollway. On Tuesday, county commissioners talked about big plans for the Katy Freeway. In just a few months, some drivers will be paying to go to and from work along the I-10. But the plan for the Katy Freeway between the West Loop and Grand Parkway is much different than the proposal that brought so much angst among drivers on the Westpark Tollway. This time, you'll have more of a choice. But are drivers buying it?

It's a super-freeway in the making. In six months, there will be four lanes each direction, three feeder lanes each way and in the middle, four managed lanes in both directions for high occupancy vehicles and tolls; tolls that come October will probably start at $1.25 and perhaps double during rush hours.

"Jumping the price double, sometimes even if it's crowded, not if it's prime time, I object to that," said driver Roseann Tucker.

That kind of response undid a plan for congestion pricing last year on Westpark. The idea was that higher tolls would force drivers off the road and reduce congestion. But there was no alternate route to Westpark. That's the difference with the Katy toll lanes.

"The Katy Freeway will have seven free lanes basically going each directions, so you don't have to get over into the HOV managed lane," said Harris County judge Ed Emmett. "You can choose to if you want to and if you do, depending on how congested it is and time of day, you'll pay a different rate."

Expect to hear that a lot as the freeway counts down to completion and the toll stations prepare to open. Some people are already getting the message.

"One down side to Houston is the horrible traffic and trying to avoid it," said driver Katrina Keeny. "So I have a toll tag on my car and I would pay more."

Others don't accept it.

"They need all the lanes for free traffic, to me," said driver Terry Harrell. "That's my opinion."

The best alternative is carpooling. Vehicles with three or more passengers in it get to ride for free. Cameras will monitor whether or not people are being honest.

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