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HCTRA came into existence in September 1983 when Harris County voters approved a referendum by a 7-3 margin to release up to $900 million in bonds to create two toll roads - the Hardy Toll Road and the Sam Houston Tollway, to improve the regional mobility and reduce traffic congestion in the Greater Houston area, an area known for rapid population growth.

The need for a county-run toll road system came from TxDOT's budget shortfall and its inability to authorize funding to upgrade the second loop around the city, Beltway 8, which had been on planning maps since the 1950s. The Texas Turnpike Authority turned down the opportunity to improve the road as well, leaving the county to upgrade the road to freeway standards. However, Harris County could not afford to build and maintain a freeway from its general fund.

Shortly after the referendum, the Commissioners Court created the Toll Road Authority to administer the construction and operation of the new road system. Then-County Judge Jon Lindsay is generally credited with shepherding the referendum from its infancy to its passage, along with the implementation of the plan for the roadway. HCTRA is a part of Harris County's Public Infrastructure Department and is subdivided into a Services and an Operations Division.

While for many years, the Hardy Toll Road never had the traffic that the HCTRA envisioned it would need to turn a profit, the Sam Houston Tollway has more than made up for the lost revenue. The high profit margins on the Sam Houston Tollway allowed the authority to construct its third and fourth toll roads, the Westpark Tollway and Fort Bend Toll Road, both of which opened in 2004. Both of these toll roads have termini in Fort Bend County and are run in conjunction with the Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority. The most recent project of HCTRA is the construction of managed lanes that run along the median of I-10/Katy Freeway between SH 6 and I-610 that opened in April 2009.[2]

Current systemEdit

The HCTRA uses their own toll tag called the EZ TAG. The system has been interoperable with the Texas Department of Transportation's TxTag and the North Texas Tollway Authority's TollTag since 2003. Around the 3rd quarter of 2017, the system will be interoperable with the Kansas Turnpike Authority's K-Tag[3] and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority's PikePass.[3]

The following toll roads (in order of first segment completion) form the current HCTRA system:

Sam Houston Tollway (1982)Edit

The Sam Houston Tollway is the name given to the tolled sections of Beltway 8, the second highway loop around Houston. The first opened section was the Sam Houston Ship Channel Bridge in the east quadrant of the road system. From 1982 to 1994, the bridge, which was originally named in honor of local politician and entrepreneur Jesse H. Jones, was maintained by the Texas Turnpike Authority (now North Texas Tollway Authority). As of February 26, 2011, the Sam Houston Tollway is a complete tolled beltway loop around Houston (minus a few minor sections that are freeways managed by TXDOT).

Hardy Toll Road (1988)Edit

The Hardy Toll Road was constructed to help alleviate traffic off of I-45 North. The route begins at I-610 North between I-45 North and I-69/US 59 North and travels northward parallel to I-45 for 21.6 miles (34.8 km) after which it merges onto I-45. The toll road also features a 4-mile (6.4 km) spur to George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Westpark Tollway (2004)Edit

The Westpark Tollway is a 20-mile (32.2 km) toll road starting in Uptown Houston and travelling westward parallel to sections of Westpark Drive and FM 1093 and terminating just past the Grand Parkway (SH 99). It is the first all-electronic toll road in the United States. The Fort Bend County Toll Road Authority (FBCTRA) operates the western-most 6 miles (9.7 km) of the tollway.

Fort Bend Toll Road (2004)Edit

The Fort Bend Toll Road is a 7.5-mile (12.1 km) tollway that follows the route of the formerly-cancelled State Highway 122. The toll road currently begins with direct connectors at US 90A, just north of the Sam Houston Tollway, and travels southward to its terminus at SH 6. As with the Westpark Tollway, the Fort Bend Toll Road is jointly operated with the FBCTRA.

Katy Freeway Managed Lanes (2009)Edit

In 2002, HCTRA entered into an agreement with TxDOT and Harris County for the reconstruction of I-10/Katy Freeway. The toll road authority's portion of the project is a 12-mile (19.3 km) managed lane facility in the center of the reconstructed freeway that is used by METRO and HOV vehicles at no charge and single passenger vehicles for a toll. The four lane roadway, running between I-610/West Loop and SH 6, has been completed. The lanes opened during the second quarter of 2009.

Tomball Tollway (2015)Edit

The Tomball Tollway consists of a 6.0-mile (9.7 km) segment of three toll lanes in each direction from Spring Cypress Road up to the northern end of the Tomball Bypass. Texas State Highway 249 serves as toll-free frontage roads for the Tomball Tollway. Tolling on the Tomball Tollway is all-electronic; an EZ TAG, TollTag or TxTag are required for passage. No cash or pay-by-mail option is available for the Tomball Tollway. Construction of Phase I began in Fall 2013 and was finished on April 12, 2015.

SH 242/I-45 Flyover Ramps (2015)Edit

Although both of them are located within Montgomery County and were at the time owned and operated by Montgomery County Toll Road Authority (MCTRA), HCTRA formerly collected tolls for MCTRA for two flyover ramps: one from northbound I-45 to SH 242 westbound and the other from westbound SH 242 to I-45 southbound near The Woodlands. Both flyover ramps were completed on May 11, 2015, and were tolled between July 6, 2015, and May 28, 2019. Both ramps solely utilized electronic toll collection, and required drivers to own an EZ TAG, TollTag or TxTag transponder. After a unanimous vote by the Montgomery County Commissioners Court on May 28, 2019, the tolls were lifted, and ownership and maintenance of both flyover ramps were transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). As a result, HCTRA stopped collecting tolls on the flyover ramps.[4]

Future projectsEdit

Hardy Downtown ConnectorEdit

This 4-mile (6.4 km) long project will provide a connection between Downtown Houston and the current terminus of the Hardy Toll Road at I-610. Planning for the Hardy Toll Road connection into Downtown Houston was announced in 2000. The project will be completed in two phases. Phase I consists of moving a railroad line, right of way acquisition, and the construction of two overpasses. Phase II will be the construction of 4 toll lanes. Relocation of the rail line is expected to begin Fall of 2012.

Hardy Toll Road Interchange at Beltway 8Edit

To relieve congestion on surface streets, direct connectors between Hardy Toll Road and Beltway 8 will be constructed. Currently there is only one direct connector ramp from Beltway 8 East to Hardy Toll Road North. Expected construction start date is unknown.

SH 249 Southbound to Westbound Sam Houston Tollway Direct ConnectorEdit

This project will add a direct connector to feed traffic travelling south on SH 249 onto the westbound Sam Houston Tollway. This will be the second tolled direct connector at that intersection. Construction began in 2014.

Tomball Tollway: Phase IIEdit

Phase II of the SH 249 (Tomball Tollway) project, in partnership with Montgomery County Toll Road Authority, will provide three toll lanes in each direction to the existing SH 249 corridor. The plan for Phase II will extend the toll lanes north of the Tomball Bypass to the Harris County line at Spring Creek and points beyond in Montgomery County. Schematic designs have been completed for the portion that lies within Harris County. Construction of Phase II is projected to begin in 2016.

SH 288 Managed LanesEdit

To help alleviate congestion on SH 288, HCTRA or TxDOT plan to construct toll lanes in the median of the existing freeway. The route would begin at I-69/US 59 just south of Midtown and terminate at the intersection of the proposed Grand Parkway (SH 99) for a total length of 26 miles (41.8 km). It is unknown when construction will begin; or which agency will oversee construction, currently it is TxDOT.

Hempstead Highway/US 290 Managed LanesEdit

The planned project will add four tolled lanes along the Hempstead Highway corridor between I-610 and the future Grand Parkway (SH 99) northwest segment. The project is one component of the complete US 290 corridor upgrade by TxDOT, which also includes added capacity to US 290, a new HOV system parallel to the Hempstead Highway, and a possible commuter rail line in conjunction with METRO. Construction began in 2013 on US 290, with TxDOT overseeing construction.

Increased capacity of existing toll roadsEdit

Added capacity is planned for the following existing tollway segments:

  • Sam Houston Tollway Southwest from SH 288 to IH 69/US 59 South: Two lanes will be added in each direction with improvements to the mainline toll plaza, and will have reconstructed and/or realigned entrance/exit ramps. Construction commenced in early 2012 - lanes completed as of 2014.
  • Sam Houston Tollway Southeast from SH 288 to IH 45 South: Two lanes will be added in each direction with improvements to the mainline toll plaza, and will have reconstructed entrance/exit ramps. Schematic design has been completed, construction is expected to begin in approximately 2 years. As of late 2015 the construction has not commenced since the interchange at SH288 has not been finalized where both TxDOT and HCTRA are finalizing plans for both the tollway upgrade and SH288 managed lanes. The first phase which commenced in 2015 is the construction of new overpasses for the west and eastbound Beltway 8 service lanes over a railroad right of way which parallels Mykawa Road (since the 1997 opening of the Sam Houston Tollway East one eastbound lane over Mykawa Road is co-shared with Beltway 8 where the realignment of the service lanes will eliminate the co-sharing with HCTRA and TxDOT (prior to the right of way co-sharing those who used the Beltway 8 service lanes had to make a turn on Mykawa Road and a left on Knapp Road in Pearland, TX where it had a surface crossing at a railroad right of way, which has been decommissioned later replaced with a flyover on McHard Road a few miles south during the early 2000s); this section of the tollway is congested on weekends where Cole's Flea Market is located south of the tollway on State Highway 35 in Pearland).
  • Sam Houston Tollway East from IH 45 South to SH 225: One or two lanes are to be added in each direction with improvements to the mainline toll plaza, and will have reconstructed entrance/exit ramps. Construction for the tollway lanes is expected to begin in 2017.
  • Sam Houston Tollway - Ship Channel Bridge from SH 225 to IH 10 East: A second span will be constructed over the Ship Channel with three or four lanes with full shoulders in each direction. Construction is expected to begin in 2018. First phase of the plan involved the conversion of the Ship Channel Bridge toll plazas into electronic toll collection, which was implemented on January 11, 2016.
  • Hardy Toll Road from FM 1960 to SH 99 (Grand Parkway): This will add one lane in each direction to the intersection with SH 99 (Grand Parkway). During construction, HCTRA also eliminated cash collection and converted the Hardy Toll Road to all-electronic tolling on July 18, 2016; all traffic must utilize an EZ TAG for access to the toll road. Construction to widen the Hardy Toll Road began in August 2015, with a completion date for early 2017. The Hardy Toll Road interchange with the Grand Parkway Segment G (which was completed in March 2016) was finished on July 18, 2016.[5][6][7]

Fort Bend Parkway/South Post Oak Road ExtensionEdit

The project will connect I-610 via the South Post Oak exit (which terminates south of West Bellfort) to the northern terminus of the Fort Bend Parkway with just over 3 miles (4.8 km) of tolled lanes. However, this project is not in planning or design. As of 2016 traffic exiting the Fort Bend Parkway goes directly to US90-A/South Main.

Fairmont Parkway East Managed LanesEdit

Project is no longer being built. As of 03/30/10[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Contact Us." Harris County Toll Road Authority. Retrieved on October 16, 2011. "Administrative Office Harris County Toll Road Authority 7701 Wilshire Place Drive Houston, TX 77040"
  2. ^ Katy Toll Road, accessed 29 September 2006
  3. ^ a b Begley, Dug (June 19, 2016). "Local toll tags going national, eventually". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved September 23, 2016.
  4. ^ Jules Rogers (May 28, 2019), "Montgomery County Commissioners unanimously remove tolls along Hwy. 242 flyovers", Community Impact Newspaper, retrieved May 30, 2019
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Hardy Toll Road goes EZ Tag only". KHOU 11 News.
  8. ^

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