Federal Highway Administration Approves Loop 49 As Toll Way - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

1/10/06-Smith County

Federal Highway Administration Approves Loop 49 As Toll Way

Cut your traveling time in half, but it will cost you. The Loop 49 project in Tyler has just been approved as a toll way. Now, it awaits approval by the Texas Transportation Commission. That's expected at the end of this month. Opening this Spring, the section of road between Highway 155 and Highway 69. After it opens, TxDOT says it will start tolling there, using the money to build sections of roads between Highway 155 and Interstate, and FM 756 and Highway 110. Those portions are expected to be done by 2012.

The decision to toll Loop 49 did not happen overnight, according to officials with the Regional Mobility Authority. It was a project started 30 years ago. Jeff Austin III says tolling is the best way to see results faster.

"We're using the tolling revenue to help build it quicker and if we didn't have these funds available, we'd be looking at 20, 30 years down the road, hoping that the state would give us money," said Austin III. In October, TxDOT received an 80% approval rating at its public hearing on tolling the loop. However, not everyone is happy about it.

"You call it taxes, fees, tolls no matter what you describe it as it comes down to a tax," said Eric Rathbone, Flint Resident. "We pay money in gasoline tax to build roads. If the road is generally needed, if we must have it, if it's so desperately wanted then why aren't we paying for it with the tax money that we've paid in." Rathbone moved to East Texas three and a half years ago to get away from the big city.

"There are plenty of studies that indicate when you build new highways what you do is you reduce traffic congestion briefly, but within a few years traffic congestion returns and that is because the new infrastructure creates growth and development," said Rathbone.

"It's Tyler and the East Texas area that's bringing the development because it's a desirable place to live and we have to just keep up with the demands for traffic here," said Mary Owen, District Engineer for TxDOT. Tolling, TxDOT says right now is the best way to do that.

TxDOT says it's still deciding on the cost of the toll, but estimate it to be between 50 and 75 cents per trip. The tolling will be done electronically using a TX-tag, which can be purchased online or at Brookshires. The TX-tag can also be used throughout the state.

Molly Reuter, reporting. mreuter@kltv.com

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