Robert Hinkle probably wishes he had a few of his words back.
Hinkle is the spokesman for North Tarrant Express Mobility Partners, which built toll lanes on Northeast Loop 820 and Texas 121/183 in Northeast Tarrant County and is building similar lanes on Interstate 35W in Fort Worth.
Contacted by Star-Telegram reporter Gordon Dickson about complaints from drivers about signs not giving them enough notice that they’re about to enter a toll lane, Hinkle had this to say:
“Our advice is for folks to put down your sandwich, put down your coffee, put down your phone and pay attention.”
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In other words, it’s the driver’s fault if they inadvertently end up on toll lanes.
But many people are confused by the entrances and exits for the new toll lanes, not just those gnawing on a sandwich. Better to show compassion, not scorn.
There are also plenty of toll lane fans. They’re happy to have a way to bypass congestion on the free lanes.
Designers and engineers involved in building the new roads devote a lot of effort to signs and pavement markings to help people go where they want to go.
Still, Dickson found some trouble spots:
▪ Eastbound Texas 121/183 at Bedford-Euless Road. Traffic near North East Mall has two lanes to enter Airport Freeway, but many motorists in the left lane swerve right to avoid paying a toll.
▪ Southbound U.S. 377 at eastbound Loop 820. The on-ramp has two lanes, but motorists in the left lane swerve to the right at the last moment to avoid getting on the toll lanes.
▪ Westbound Loop 820 at U.S. 377. Motorists who go left are directed onto the toll lanes, while those who go right are led to North Beach Street. The sign doesn’t explain that those who stay right can also access the free westbound Loop 820 main lanes.
▪ Eastbound Interstate 20 at Chisholm Trail Parkway. A sign informs motorists that if they turn right they can access the Chisholm Trail Parkway toll road. But if they pass the Costco at Overton Ridge Road, they get no other warning and must enter the toll road.
There may be many reasons why some drivers aren’t seeing the signs correctly. Some may not realize until the last minute that when a sign says “Express,” it means “toll.”
Some freeways like East Loop 820 approaching Texas 121/183 are old and highly congested, and it’s difficult to negotiate lane changes.
Sometimes driving is just confusing, and other drivers who know their route often show little mercy.
Transportation officials should check out each of the trouble spots Dickson found.