Katy Freeway Managed Lanes Cause Hubbub

The Katy Freeway expansion is nearing completion. The expanded freeway lanes and additional toll lanes should be finished in October. But Harris County commissioners are already dealing with a lot of confusion on how the new mixed-use lanes will work. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett found himself fielding the same question over and over again at Commissioner's Court. Why are there going to be so-called managed toll lanes on the Katy Freeway?

"The Katy Freeway is going to be the model as you heard for the whole country. There are going to be many more free lanes for people to travel on, there are going to be sidewalks even beside it. There will be managed lanes though, and the managed lanes will be a combination of high-occupancy vehicle, mass transit for METRO buses and then if people do not have the high occupancy then they can get on them and pay a toll."

Emmett's answer seems pretty straightforward. But some online forums are abuzz about the managed lanes. People are asking if this is a taxpayer funded freeway, why should they have to pay an additional toll to use it? Emmett says there's a simple answer. They don't.

"The Katy Freeway will have seven free lanes basically going each direction. So you don't have to get over in the HOV managed lane. You can choose to if you want to, and if you do, depending on how congested it is and time of day then you'll pay a different rate."

That last part is what has a lot of people upset. Congestion pricing means during peak times of day it will cost more to drive on the managed lanes. The Texas Department of Transportation is recommending an initial toll of $2.50 during peak hours and $1.25 during non-peak hours. And if there's enough demand, those prices could feasibly and quickly go up. TxDOT District Engineer Gary Trietsch says they have no idea what to expect until they open the lanes.

"You know starting out it'll probably be two prices. But in the years to come when traffic builds up even more or it could be months when we find out -- because in some locations price changes every 15 minutes and that's possible. But that will be shown on changeable message signs that will be there before you enter so you know what price is going to be charged."

The reason the prices may fluctuate is because the county is under contract with the state to keep traffic in those lanes flowing at a minimum of 45 miles per hour. So if the managed lanes reach capacity and traffic slows down, toll-based drivers will be priced out.

Laurie Johnson. Houston Public Radio News.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...