Image: Even mid-day on a Saturday, April 14, 2018, cars line up approximately 3/10ths of a mile from the intersection to turn left on the northbound frontage road along Interstate 45 in order to avoid the 25 cent off-hour tolls on the largely unused SH 242 flyover. The flyover does little more than block available road space which the County government could have used for a practical flyover (like the one at Woodlands Parkway) to reduce traffic congestion rather than increase congestion. Tollroads act as road blocks to skew traffic and are unsafe. During weekdays, the traffic pileup on the northbound frontage road from cars turning left and avoiding the tolled flyover extends back about one-and-a-half miles from the intersection with SH 242.
Magnolia, April 15 – The vocal, but tiny, minority of Charlie Riley adherents, who have called for the TX 249 extension as a tollroad, are missing the critical point: if there truly is a need for mobility by expanding TX 249, the safe method of such an expansion would be construction of more lanes as a free road, because tollroads usually constitute a block of scarce resources, available road space.
The best local illustration of that principle is the behavior of motorists at the SH 242 flyovers where very few drivers use them and instead utilize the frontage roads for left turns. The congestion at the flyovers has increased since their construction, because the flyovers take good, usable road space and create roadblocks instead around which drivers seek alternatives.
Of course, there’s also the corruption problem with the tiny 3-mile TX 249 Tollway, that will cost somewhere between $76 and $85 million, making it one of the most expensive highways on a per-mile basis in American history. Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley want to control the construction of that project in order to funnel the public dollars into the hands of Halff Associates, Inc., and Jones & Carters, the two engineering firms which have led the funding of their criminal legal defense funds.
James Baxter, the founder of the Citizens Coalition for National Traffic Laws, and a board member of the National Motorist Association, has observed:
“Toll roads are an inefficient, backwards approach to providing public highways. Worse, they foster corruption, political patronage, and discourage needed improvements on the rest of the highway system.”
There’s no question that Riley and Doyal have manipulated, corrupted, and greatly harmed road construction during their joint tenure as County Commissioner and County Judge, respectively (or rather disrespectfully). They lobbied the Texas Department of Transportation to build the TxDOT portion of TX 249 as a tollroad in Montgomery County, even though Grimes County Commissioners Court members successfully lobbied to make their portion of the TX 249 Extension a free road. Doyal and Riley wanted the TxDOT portion to be a tollroad as a pretext for making their 3-mile portion of the TX 249 Extension a tollroad. They brought Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff to Conroe on December 19, 2017, to argue for building TX 249 as a tollroad, but Vandergriff blew the carefully scripted presentation when he admitted that TxDOT would build TX 249 as a free road, if Montgomery County’s wild-spending government didn’t build the project as a tollroad.
The corruption behind the TX 249 tollroad is terrible. The safety issue involving TX 249 is even more significant. TX 249 will take a huge amount of scarce road space for the purpose of a tollroad which drivers will seek to avoid, just like they avoid the SH 242 flyovers and cause congestion along the frontage roads instead.
Jerry Nickelsburg, a Professor at the UCLA School of Management, wrote about tollroads:
“Consequently, the scarce resource — road space — will be rationed according to its relative value to consumers. Of course, it is not only the value of time that matters in the decision; income — the ability to pay tolls — does as well. Adding a toll lane allows rich people to drive fast and reduces the capacity on the freeway for everyone else. And that raises issues of equity for infrastructure built with tax dollars.
“The other problem with toll lanes is that there is an alternative to either paying for the less congested toll lane, or driving in the now more congested free lanes: driving on surface streets. With navigation apps such as Waze, drivers can take the nearest off-ramp and motor through residential neighborhoods. When they do that, they expose residential neighborhoods to the congestion, noise and pollution that the freeways were originally built to eliminate.
“Moreover, a 2001 article by Ingo Hansen of Delft University of Technology suggests that transportation analysis of toll roads gets it all wrong. His research indicates that when fed-up freeway commuters start taking app-directed shortcuts through residential areas, the local roads quickly become clogged, hampering residents’ ability to make short trips or run errands. These residents are now competing with longer-distance drivers, and so they, too, pay a cost in congestion, safety and pollution.”
Texas traffic attorney Michael Grossman, who lives and works in the Dallas area, observed the same phenomenon in North Texas:
“The fundamental falsehood of [tolled] HOV lanes is that they encourage carpooling and thereby relieve congestion by reducing the number of vehicles on the roadway. The problem is that it is a failed idea. The reality is that we often have a perfectly good lane taken away and transformed into a special lane, resulting in more traffic overall, yet this still doesn’t encourage enough people to carpool (drive hybrids, etc.) to produce a net benefit.”
The city of San Clemente, California, where tollroads have become a popular way to spend public dollars, found that the tolled SR-241 actually increased traffic congestion, because drivers avoided it and used frontage roads or alternatives through residential areas instead. The same experience occurred when federal highway officials began to toll certain lanes on the Washington, D.C. Beltway (I-495) where they just amounted to roadblocks reducing the number of lanes, so traffic congestion on the free lanes became significantly worse. The government of Orange County, California, spent $1.4 billion on a toll project along Highway 91, as traffic economists had recommended. When the Orange tollroad came in, congestion on the freeway got worse, because people didn’t use the tollroad and there were less lanes available for the traffic congestion.
Ultimately, the two people who seem as though they’re the only ones who want TX 249 as a tollroad, rather than a free road, are Doyal and Riley. As State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), State Representative Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands), Precinct 4 County Commissioner Jim Clark (R-New Caney), and Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack (R-The Woodlands) have in recent days lobbied TxDOT to build the 3-mile section of TX 249, and to spend state gas tax dollars that Montgomery County citizens have already paid for the entire cost of the TX 249 road, Doyal and Riley have behind-the-scenes lobbied against them and the citizens to ask TxDOT not to use state funds to build their Decimation of Hope Highway, as The Golden Hammer has confirmed through five (5) different sources (two within TxDOT and three others) who have requested anonymity.
Doyal and Riley are two people who don’t care whether TX 249 is a tollroad. Doyal lives around Lake Conroe and will likely start work in a Houston job on January 1, 2019. Doyal won’t have to deal with the traffic congestion. Riley will likely retire when January 1, 2019, arrives, so he won’t have to fight traffic during rush hour at all or, less likely, Riley will still be a County Commissioner and won’t have to worry about any commute into the Houston area from Magnolia. They just want to control the money from the TX 249 Tollway project, so they can funnel it into the direction they want.
As the National Motorist Association’s Baxter has observed, the TX 249 Tollway will “discourage needed improvements” in the form of a free TX 249 Extension. Just imagine what a quagmire east-west traffic in the Magnolia area would become if Riley chose to expand F.M. 1488 as a tollroad rather than a free one. It would become one of the greatest safety hazards you could ever imagine.