City Council discusses Border Highway toll removal proposal

EL PASO, Texas - City councilors and members of the community discussed the implications of removing all current and planned toll lanes in the El Paso region Monday.

Texas Rep. Joe Pickett will make a formal proposal to remove the lanes Friday to the Transportation Policy Board. Mayor Oscar Leeser is the chairman of the TPB board. City Rep. Emma Acosta is also on the board.

"I would like to know if the toll roads are removed, will be Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority have to pay back the $5 million in debt, and if they do, how are they going to find it?" Acosta asked.

According to TxDOT, the CRRMA owes the department more than $5 million in operations debt. That would be paid back by toll revenues, which is the Mobility Authority's only source of funding. Without tolls, TxDOT would have to forgive that debt.

The department would also have to take on operations and maintenance of all nine miles of the Cesar Chavez Border Highway and the Border West Express, which is the Loop 375 expansion project set to open in 2017.

CRRMA Executive Director Raymond Telles said the loss would also mean fewer road projects in El Paso.

"Whenever the Regional Mobility Authority generates a dime of revenue without regard of what program that is, that dime can only ... be spent in the region and only on transportation projects," said Telles. It's a nice way to dedicate revenue streams towards improving your transportation system."

Pickett said money from the 2014 gas tax amendment and Proposition 1 will cover lost revenue for El Paso. Proposition 1 generates close to $2 million for the state's highway fund annually.

Telles said there is no guarantee much money would come back to El Paso from the state. He said Border Highway tolls had brought in around $220,000 as of May.

Telles said despite the debt dispute, Pickett is creating a healthy debate. Telles said the community should always review transportation decisions because they're often made five to 10 years ahead of construction and completion. The Border Highway toll lanes were planned and approved more than seven years ago.

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