How about completely banning big trucks from Interstate 35 during certain times of day?
Or imposing tolls which vary due to congestion levels. You might have to pay a hefty toll to drive on I-35 during rush hour, but pay nothing to drive on the highway at 8 PM Sunday evening.
Those are just a couple of the radical ideas floated at the annual San Antonio Austin Growth Summit in San Marcos, where local and state officials came together to come up with ideas to deal with what everyone agrees is the most pressing transportation issue in the state--traffic along Interstate 35 between San Antonio and Austin, an area that has seen a million new residents in the last decade.
"We have always enjoyed having a lot of capacity on our roadways," Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley, a former Hays County Judge, told the summer. "Now we have to find out what is the best way to utilize the capacity we do have on this roadway during certain times."
Other ideas include 'diamond lanes,' which are common on the east and west coasts but not in Texas. These would be lanes which would require that at least two people be inside any vehicle that uses them.
But Moseley says the most promising way to relieve congestion right now is 'public private partnerships.' That is bureaucrat-speak for toll roads.
Moseley says despite the controversial nature of toll roads, tolls are in fact the most 'transparent' way to fund new highway construction.
"If taxes are raised on gasoline, there are some that are concerned that the roads built do not serve the people who are paying the gasoline tax," he said, pointing out that in the case of toll roads, the costs are borne 100% by the motorists who use the road.
Speakers said while the congestion in the I-35 corridor has not yet prompted any employers to move out of the area or not to move in, there have been cases where the prospect of being stuck in traffic for an hour every morning has caused problems in employee recruitment.
Vic Boyer, who heads the San Antonio Mobility Coalition, revealed that a $2 billion plan is in the works to expand I-35 from downtown San Antonio to the Bexar-Comal County line, using toll lanes.
While the State Highway 130 bypass was built mainly to divert through traffic off of I-35, planners said that fully 98% of the traffic on I-35 is local traffic, meaning that a bypass is not logical for people who jump onto I-35 to drive a few miles to work, or to the HEB.
Moseley says TxDOT has enough money to 'prevent congestion from getting any worse' but not to improve it.
The goal, as one speaker indelicately put it, has to be to 'push enough people off the highway' so the rest of the people who are on I-35 can get to their destination in a timely manner. He pointed out that if people can't count on getting to their destination on time, all commerce grinds to a halt because people will be routinely late to work or to appointments.
The big question is...who will be 'pushed' off Interstate 35, and what means will be used to do it.