Last Saturday, you could start going faster on part of the chronically congested LBJ Freeway in north Dallas. But it’s going to cost you.
The so-called “managed toll lanes” are part of the $2 billion LBJ Express project and promise speeds of at least 50 miles an hour. The first segment of the so-called TEXpress managed toll lanes on LBJ is the 3-mile stretch between Preston Road and Greenville Avenue.
Here are three things you need to know:
1. What does this look like?
“The managed lanes are the toll lanes that we have literally dropped in the middle of an existing corridor,” said Robert Hinkle with the LBJ Express Infrastructure Group.
Hinkle says the lanes are slightly below the regular main lanes, but it’s not a tunnel.
TEXpress lanes feature a minimum of two lanes per direction, but with wide shoulders on each side of them to accommodate accidents.
If you don’t want to pay tolls, you can hop on the regular lanes of LBJ Freeway.
Hinkle says there will be a big learning curve for drivers and traffic engineers. Officials will spend the first six months watching drivers’ reactions and tweaking the system.
2. How much will it cost me to ride the TEXpress?
Prices change depending on time of day, direction of travel and congestion. That’s the “managed” part of the new lanes.
Hinkle says for the first six months, the toll lanes are a real bargain.
“The whole 3.5 miles is going to cost you anywhere from 30 to 95 cents,” he said. “Non-peak, it’s going to cost you anywhere from 15 to 50 cents.”
But costs will eventually creep up. Here's how the TEXpress website describes it: "After the first six months of an opening, toll prices will be based on real-time traffic demand. Average toll prices may range from 10 cents to 25 cents per mile during lighter traffic, and 45 cents to 75 cents during rush hour."
Payment is deducted from your TollTag, or you get a bill in the mail. Carpoolers get a discount if they pre-register online or with a mobile app. Single drivers pay more.
When the lane segments are complete, big signs will tell drivers the going rate for the next segment and they can decide if they want to continue or exit.
3. How can you keep the traffic at a constant 50 mph?
Dan Lamers with the North Central Texas Council of Governments said the goal of fluctuating tolls is to keep a constant flow of cars going at least 50 miles an hour. The more congested the toll lanes are, the higher the price to discourage additional travelers. But the price will be lowered to get more cars into the lanes to meet capacity.
To ensure the lanes are moving 50 mph, roadside equipment recalculates the pricing every five minutes, 24 hours a day.
Lamers says the selling point is reliability – knowing you’ll be moving at a faster clip than most free, mainlane traffic. Down the road, there will be rebates if speeds fall below 50 mph.
Hinkle says this project is bringing 50-year-old construction infrastructure and technology into the 21st century with expanded frontage roads, free main lanes in tip-top shape and speedy toll lanes.
“This is true mobilization democracy,” Hinkle said. “Now you’ve got a choice.”
More managed lanes to come
But get used to paying for speed. Next up, there will be managed lanes on the North Tarrant Express. Then there’s the billion-dollar Interstate 35 project from LBJ north to Denton.
Learn more about managed lanes in this video from LBJ Express: