Update: The Texas Department of Transportation announced Wednesday that Border West Expressway will open "early Thursday afternoon, Oct. 3."
Original story: Anyone who drives on El Paso’s Westside has seen the toll road signs go up and the lights go on at night while concrete barricades still block access to what will be the city’s only tolled highway.
A week ago, the Texas Department of Transportation announced that the construction of the 7.4-mile long, $680 million Border West Expressway is officially finished, completing Loop 375 around El Paso.
So when will it open? That’s the big question, but TxDOT isn’t quite ready to say.
“We hope we can announce when the road will open in the coming days,” said Jennifer Wright, TxDOT’s El Paso spokeswoman. “We are very close to finalizing all necessary agreements.”
Hard to see from much of Interstate 10, Border West Expressway extends from Racetrack Drive near Doniphan east to U.S. 54 and the Spaghetti Bowl.
It will relieve traffic at peak hours, provide another east-west highway route and improve access to UTEP, Downtown, border crossings, international bridges and medical centers.
Exactly how much the tolls will be for different types of vehicles isn’t quite settled either, but using the toll road will be free when it opens and for an extended period that also has yet to be decided.
That’s to let drivers get used to what will be El Paso’s only toll road.
The first and last official action on the subject of tolls was in April 2014 when the Texas Transportation Commission issued an order describing the future project and setting rates for different types of vehicles that would be good until Sept. 1, 2019.
TxDOT originally expected to finish Border West in late 2017 and for $60 million less than the final price tag.
Initially, $1.12 was to be the toll for a passenger vehicle with the proper windshield sticker traveling the full length of the 7.4-mile long road at peak time in the morning and afternoon.
The price for other times was set at 56 cents.
But, tolls will double for vehicle owners who have not set up an account and deposited money with the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, or RMA.
Tolls will go up fast for multiple-axle trucks and trailers. At the 2014 rates, tolls top out at $11.20 for a six-axel vehicle using the toll road at rush hour – if the owner has signed up with the RMA.
If not, that charge would be $22.40.
Raymond Telles, executive of the RMA, explained there will be two ways to use the toll road.
“One is you create an account and we give you a sticker called a transponder that ties back to the account you create,” he said. “It’s like a prepaid phone card.
“You put money into it, and it sits there until you use it. So you put that sticker on your vehicle and you drive the roadway and at each of the overhead gantries, you’ve got readers that pick up the sticker. Then the toll will be deducted from your account.”
For those without an account, overhead cameras will photograph the vehicle’s front and rear license plates and the RMA will use the Department of Motor Vehicles’ database to obtain the owner’s name and address.
“Then we will invoice you by mail,” Telles said. “That way has a lot more steps to it and there are reviews, so it’s more expensive – double the cost of transponder transactions.”
There are about 25 other toll roads in Texas, and in most if not all of those cases, the tolls are used to pay off the construction costs and then to maintain the roads or pay for other state projects.
Because the state has already paid for the Border West Expressway, Telles said, toll proceeds the RMA takes in will be used for future maintenance and for local projects approved by the RMA.
“This is the beauty of having an RMA in this region,” Telles said. “Any revenue it generates can only be spent in this region and only on transportation projects. So it stays here.”
“If TxDOT were to own and operate a toll facility in El Paso, they would generate revenue, send it to Austin and who knows where it goes from there?”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622