Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Tag on the Bush Is Worth Two (Fifty-Six) in the Hand

Needing to run an errand in the Arlington area today, I was able to do something new: Traverse the George Bush Turnpike in its new entirety, including the recently-opened extension of State Highway 161. (I realize that the latter is not technically part of the Bush facility, but there's been talk of giving that name to the entire proposed outer loop system, possibly even uniting it all under the number of Loop 41, for the president which it honors--remember, it's named for the father, not the son.) The trip is very convenient, but, as i noted in a recent post, it comes at a (literal) cost, since the toll rates (mostly) went up.

As I said earlier, the new system is at least attempting to be more "equitable," as the rates do vary quite a bit depending on the distance between the on- or offramps and the nearest mainlane plaza. This makes for a confusing commute, but I suppose that it's a lot easier to do this now that nobody has to pay in cash anymore.

So here's how the tolls stack up for the entire length of the road (using a TollTag), from the beginning in Garland until the end of the tolled section of 161 just north of i-30::
  • Shiloh Main Plaza: $1.00

  • Coit Main Plaza: $1.08 (sorry, but I still don't see the need for the extra eight cents)

  • Frankford Main Plaza: $1.00

  • Sandy Lake Main Plaza: $0.80

  • Belt LIne Main Plaza: $0.46 (this was a pleasant surprise)

  • SH 161 Main Gantry: $0.78
Doing the math (which the NTTA also does for you here and here) the total comes to $5.12 for a one-way trip from Garland to Grand Prairie. That might be a little rich for some folks' blood, but it's still cheaper (by $2.56) than the $7.68 it would cost if you used ZipCash instead of a tag.

And the thing about the looped nature of the road means that it's still possible to use it in combination with free roads for a lower fee while saving some time vs. using the free roads alone. (For instance, I could get to the same place--I-30 and SH 161, which was built over the footprint of NW 19th St. in Grand Prairie--by going through Rowlett and hitting I-30 west. I wouldn't spend a dime on tolls, but I'd also have to deal with downtown Dallas and the seeming interminable construction on I-30 west of there. At some times of the day, the I-30 traffic would be bad enough that using the tollway would seem to be a no-brainer.)

Perhaps sometime in the future, I'll do the one thing I didn't do yesterday (because of a lunch stop): Actually time the trip, and eventually do so on the nearest free route as well. I don't know for sure that the tollway would always "win" that competition, but from where I sit, anything that keeps me off LBJ Freeway as much as possible is a good thing.

And the road goes ever onward: Since I had a little time, I went ahead and followed the 161 service roads all the way to their terminus at I-20. Even though there are a few stoplights along the way, the mere presence of these roads will certainly take a bit of the pressure off Loop 12 and SH 360, and things will only get better once the mainlanes are completed. The slight interruption in downtown Grand Prairie (where drivers have to detour a block to cross a set of railroad tracks) is a bit of an annoyance, but otherwise, it's a straight shot now to I-20. I'm sure this will be a shot in the arm to the whole area, as most of the land through which it passes is undeveloped. (For an overview of the 161 project, go here.)

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