Want to go faster on North Texas toll roads? Get out your wallet



Each day, a sleepless traffic computer watches millions of moving cars on North Texas roads, gathering real-time information on the driving patterns of Texas motorists and how frequently they choose to pay for tollways.

Why This Story Matters
Millions of Texans rely on toll roads daily in a state that has built more paid thoroughfares over the past two decades than almost all U.S. states combined. The affordability, safety and management of these roads impact us all, especially as some leaders admit more are likely coming to handle substantial growth throughout the state and in North Texas.

The technology, run by various tollway operators, is part of a highway system of more than 100 miles of roadways that function as “managed lanes,” known as TEXpress in North Texas. In other parts of the state, these lanes run along Austin’s 11-mile express roadway called MoPac. In Harris County, they are part of a 6-mile stretch of Interstate 10 and are known as the Inner Katy Managed Lanes.

The managed lanes work like a freeway inside a freeway because they are separate from the free lanes. They also have fewer exits.

Many motorists hop on TEXpress lanes to connect quickly to urban centers from their suburban homes. The lanes on Interstate 820, State Highway 121 and Interstate 35W offer access between the Hurst-Euless-Bedford area and downtown Fort Worth. In the Dallas area, LBJ TEXpress brings commuters who live in Coppell and Farmers Branch to their jobs in and around North Dallas.

A toll sign indicates the price of using the LBJ TEXpress Lanes along I-635 near Welch Rd....
A toll sign indicates the price of using the LBJ TEXpress Lanes along I-635 near Welch Rd. in Dallas, February 8, 2024.(Tom Fox / Staff Photographer)

The goal is to keep traffic moving at least 50 miles per hour under the managed lanes’ system of “dynamic pricing,” transportation officials said. In these lanes, the fees change frequently based on the level of congestion in their neighboring free lanes.

Without the managed lanes, the drive between Dallas and Fort Worth would be a lot more frustrating, said Michael Morris, the regional planner for North Texas’ 12-county metropolitan planning organization. In a 2023 traffic index study that ranked U.S. cities by levels of congestion and travel times, Dallas-Fort Worth ranked lower than Austin and Houston.

“We added 2 million people and our congestion levels barely changed,’’ Morris said.

Motorists also have a choice between driving on the managed toll lanes or the free ones. However, critics say it’s not about choice, it’s about affordability.

Video: How Texas’ explosive growth led to a toll-building spree
Investigative Reporter Yamil Berard breaks down the affordability, safety and management of toll roads throughout the state and in North Texas.

Yonah Freemark, a senior research associate at the Washington, D.C.-based Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute, which studies traffic patterns and other related issues, said it’s common for transportation engineers to say things like, “We’re charging people based on their willingness to pay.”

So, if you really want to get to Fort Worth from Dallas in a specific period of time, you would be willing to pay $20 or whatever it costs, said Freemark, who has master’s degrees in city planning and transportation, as well as a PhD in urban studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“If you are super rich, $20 is nothing to you,” said Freemark. “But if you’re poor, $20 is a massive amount. And so the use of toll roads is very much about creating a system of transportation that is reliable for people who have the ability to pay the toll cost.”

North Texas’ managed lanes include:

  • NTE TEXpress — Interstate 820, State Highway 183/State Highway 121 and Interstate 35W in Tarrant County
  • LBJ TEXpress — Interstate 635 in Dallas County
  • Interstate 30 TEXpress in Dallas County
  • Interstate 35E TEXpress in Dallas and Denton counties
  • State Highway 114 TEXpress in Dallas and Tarrant counties
  • State Highway 183 TEXpress in Dallas and Tarrant counties
  • Loop 12 TEXpress in Dallas County
  • Interstate 635E TEXpress in Dallas County (expected to open in late 2024)

(Source: Texas Department of Transportation)