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Author Topic: Houston Area Toll Highways  (Read 6898 times)

The High Plains Traveler

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Houston Area Toll Highways
« on: October 01, 2015, 05:52:05 PM »

In planning an upcoming trip that will take us through the Houston area, I was looking at the feasibility of using the toll freeways if traffic warranted. It looks to me as if using the highways without a transponder will result in not only a bill sent to my license plate address, but also a violation notice that I presume carries a (possibly hefty) penalty. Not a "drive friendly" kind of situation.

This strikes me as inconsistent with other places where the highway authorities are happy to bill vehicles without transponders at a rate slightly higher than that for vehicles with tags. If I'm not mistaken, even some roads in Texas work this way.

Side note: the only toll by mail I've ever received was for crossing the Golden Gate Bridge. 
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MaxConcrete

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2015, 07:48:28 PM »

My credit card recently expired and I forgot to update it with HCTRA, and the penalty was $11 per toll event. Fortunately I made only one trip on a toll road before I discovered the problem, but that one trip went through three toll points so it cost me $33 in fines, plus $1.75 regular toll per transaction.

So this is a very punitive penalty, and I was not able to get any relief. I can see how people easily roll up penalties in the thousands of dollars.

Yes, you are definitely wise to find out how you could be affected financially by traveling on the toll roads. I think the Sam Houston tollway has pay stations at the major toll plazas. The Westpark and Tollball tollways are all-electronic. I don't know about the Hardy Toll Road.

The High Plains Traveler

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2015, 09:53:20 PM »

Yes, you are definitely wise to find out how you could be affected financially by traveling on the toll roads. I think the Sam Houston tollway has pay stations at the major toll plazas. The Westpark and Tollball tollways are all-electronic. I don't know about the Hardy Toll Road.
I got the impression reading the toll authority web site that all roads were electronic payment only. Sam Houston is Loop 8, right? Yep, I don't want to pay $33 extra to miss a little traffic, plus we're coming through on Saturday anyway.
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FreewayDan

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #3 on: October 01, 2015, 10:32:28 PM »

Yes, you are definitely wise to find out how you could be affected financially by traveling on the toll roads. I think the Sam Houston tollway has pay stations at the major toll plazas. The Westpark and Tollball tollways are all-electronic. I don't know about the Hardy Toll Road.

The Hardy Toll Road will go to all-EZ Tag effective Summer 2016.  But before that, the Jesse Jones Memorial Bridge on the Sam Houston Tollway will go to all-EZ Tag in December.
https://www.hctra.org/files/Back_NW_Quadrant.pdf

Houston's other all-electronic (tag only) toll roads include the Fort Bend Parkway Toll Road in Fort Bend County (the Fort Bend Toll Road in Harris County continues to accept cash in the form of exact change), the Tomball Tollway, the two toll ramps at the I-45 junction with SH 242 near the Woodlands and the Grand Parkway/SH 99 (including the TxDOT maintained portion and the FBCTRA toll overpasses).
« Last Edit: October 03, 2015, 02:48:40 PM by FreewayDan »
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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #4 on: October 01, 2015, 11:32:42 PM »

If I recall correctly, the constitution prevents a county or city from loaning money to people, which is basically what happens when you drive on a toll road and don't pay immediately.  This is why HCTRA roads require either a tag or cash payment.  Some of the area's toll roads are run by TxDOT, but for the sake of consistency they're all tag-only.  It would be confusing to have some roads that bill normal tolls by mail and others that charge violation fees.  TxDOT, RMAs, and NTTA (and private companies operating under their authority) are not subject to that limitation and can have normal billing.
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FreewayDan

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2015, 12:04:10 AM »

If I recall correctly, the constitution prevents a county or city from loaning money to people, which is basically what happens when you drive on a toll road and don't pay immediately.  This is why HCTRA roads require either a tag or cash payment.  Some of the area's toll roads are run by TxDOT, but for the sake of consistency they're all tag-only.  It would be confusing to have some roads that bill normal tolls by mail and others that charge violation fees.  TxDOT, RMAs, and NTTA (and private companies operating under their authority) are not subject to that limitation and can have normal billing.

Back in 2010, HCTRA was overhauling their components of their electronic tolling system.  According to a TollRoadsNews article, the upgrades were supposed to support pay-by-plate or video tolling in the event that HCTRA were to go all-electronic.
http://tollroadsnews.com/news/houston-tx-to-redo-their-six-pike-toll-system---rfp-out
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jbnv

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2015, 06:47:07 PM »

I pass through Houston multiple times a year to visit my daughter in central Texas. Unless you are taking Beltway 8 to avoid going into the city, or a toll way is your best way to get into/out of the city from somewhere, I don't see any benefit in taking them. I usually take I-10 right through the heart of the city. If it's not rush hour, it's not a bad drive. I've been avoiding 290 because of the construction, but once that work is done I expect 290 to be a sweet ride. (It's already fun to bypass I-610 altogether and get to I-10.)
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rlb2024

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #7 on: October 03, 2015, 01:17:28 PM »

As of earlier this week when I was in Houston you can still pay with cash on at least the southern part of the Sam Houston Tollway, including the Ship Channel bridge.
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Brandon

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2015, 12:22:34 AM »

My credit card recently expired and I forgot to update it with HCTRA, and the penalty was $11 per toll event. Fortunately I made only one trip on a toll road before I discovered the problem, but that one trip went through three toll points so it cost me $33 in fines, plus $1.75 regular toll per transaction.

So this is a very punitive penalty, and I was not able to get any relief. I can see how people easily roll up penalties in the thousands of dollars.

Yes, you are definitely wise to find out how you could be affected financially by traveling on the toll roads. I think the Sam Houston tollway has pay stations at the major toll plazas. The Westpark and Tollball tollways are all-electronic. I don't know about the Hardy Toll Road.

What a bunch of assholes.  ISTHA (Illinois Tollway) wouldn't even bother with one trip (3 toll plazas) for penalties, and if you updated your card within 7 days (the grace period), you'd see anything but the toll itself show up.
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jbnv

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2015, 11:14:55 AM »

What a bunch of assholes.  ISTHA (Illinois Tollway) wouldn't even bother with one trip (3 toll plazas) for penalties, and if you updated your card within 7 days (the grace period), you'd see anything but the toll itself show up.

In 2007, my now-ex-wife racked up over $6,000 in tolls and fines passing through Chicago. I was able to take advantage of an amnesty and get it down to $3,000. Paragon of fair tolling? Hardly.
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Brandon

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2015, 11:29:08 AM »

What a bunch of assholes.  ISTHA (Illinois Tollway) wouldn't even bother with one trip (3 toll plazas) for penalties, and if you updated your card within 7 days (the grace period), you'd see anything but the toll itself show up.

In 2007, my now-ex-wife racked up over $6,000 in tolls and fines passing through Chicago. I was able to take advantage of an amnesty and get it down to $3,000. Paragon of fair tolling? Hardly.

The only way you get that much is by deliberately not stopping and paying at any toll plaza.  Maybe there's a reason she's an ex-wife.
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The High Plains Traveler

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2015, 02:32:34 PM »

We're coming on from the northwest on U.S. 290, and heading southeast toward Galveston. I'd only use the toll highway as a bypass of downtown if Saturday traffic is a major fustercluck. I guess from the above, I can conclude that, should I want to use the bypass, I can still pay cash on Loop 8. From our trip through there a few years ago, I remember signs along I-10 pretty explicitly warning that the HOV lanes were electronic pass only, no cash, so if that change has been implemented it should be marked.
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Marc

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #12 on: October 05, 2015, 12:37:24 AM »

I haven't lived in Houston in over a year and a half, but if I recall correctly, traffic isn't too bad through downtown on the weekends. When I lived in there, I was never a fan of taking Beltway 8 on the south side. First and foremost, I'm not sure it really saves that much time, but it's also a more boring drive (maybe that's why it feels longer). I'm not sure if they've finished it yet or not, but when I left, there was a lot of constriction going on along that part of the corridor.

In all honesty, if you're coming through Austin (where I live now), I'd be more worried about hitting traffic here. HOWEVER, unlike Houston and Dallas, there is not a violation for driving on our toll roads without a TxTag. They'll send you the bill in the mail. I bought a new Tacoma a few months ago and used 183A a few times when I had my temporary tag. No biggie.
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TXtoNJ

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #13 on: October 05, 2015, 11:54:17 AM »

Since there's now a direct connector between 290 and I-10, you should be fine going through downtown.
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Marc

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2015, 11:22:25 PM »

Since there's now a direct connector between 290 and I-10, you should be fine going through downtown.

Very good point. That connector opened after I left. I had forgotten about that.
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The High Plains Traveler

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #15 on: October 29, 2015, 04:14:38 PM »

A couple of quick observations, since we went through going to and coming from Galveston (the return trip was last Sunday during the deluge and gale-force winds from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia). We avoided the toll roads both ways. A question I have is about the three toll tag logos on the sign for the Toll 99 highway: there is TxTag, EZ Tag, and a T in a circle. What are these?

Also, on EB U.S. 290 at Toll 99, there is a sign that reads, EXISTING TRAFFIC MUST PAY TOLL. WB it reads correctly.
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jbnv

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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #16 on: October 29, 2015, 04:27:40 PM »

Also, on EB U.S. 290 at Toll 99, there is a sign that reads, EXISTING TRAFFIC MUST PAY TOLL.

I'd make a joke about imaginary traffic here. But that doesn't exist in Houston.
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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #17 on: October 29, 2015, 04:37:53 PM »

TxTag: toll tag system run by the state department of transportation, started in Austin for the TxDOT-owned SH 45/130 project, adopted by all the RMAs that have sprouted up since.
EZ Tag: HCTRA toll tag system.
Circle-T: North Texas Tollway Authority tag system.

All three are completely interoperable on all Texas toll roads* and offer the same discounts. I think EZ Tag and NTTA have certain things that are exclusive to their tags like parking payment, though.

For what it's worth, I've had TxTag for years and never had any trouble with them.

* Except the international bridges in Laredo, which are tolled by the city of Laredo and the Mexican federal government  (even for pedestrians!). You can set up an account with them to use the same sticker tag for them, but as far as I know the only benefits are (a) if you have SENTRI, you can use the SENTRI lane at Bridge 2 and (b) not having to carry cash - there's no discount. Toll SH 255/Camino Colombia is interoperable with the rest of the state, however.
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Re: Houston Area Toll Highways
« Reply #18 on: October 31, 2015, 05:19:21 PM »

Also, on EB U.S. 290 at Toll 99, there is a sign that reads, EXISTING TRAFFIC MUST PAY TOLL.

I'd make a joke about imaginary traffic here. But that doesn't exist in Houston.

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