Drivers can now use the flyovers at the SH 242 exit north of The Woodlands for free after Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted unanimously this week to remove the tolls. The vote is the culmination of a year-and-a-half-long battle waged by conservative activists.
“This is the first time I can recall a toll road ending a toll, and I couldn’t be more proud of today’s court action,” said County Judge Mark Keough. “The people of Montgomery County win today with this vote, and the traffic at this intersection is surely to improve now that the flyovers can be utilized as they were designed.”
Keough cited statistics showing that only 3 percent of drivers who exit I-45 at the 242 intersection actually use the tolled flyovers, with the majority opting to sit in traffic at the congested intersection rather than pay the fee.
The construction cost for the flyovers was paid off in January 2018, and since then, the commissioners have used the tolls as a cash scheme to bring in more revenue. The county judge at the time, Craig Doyal, supported the tolls, and the court voted 3-2 to keep them.
In February 2018, the Montgomery County Republican Party got involved, with precinct chairs triggering a special meeting via petition to pass a resolution calling for the tolls to be removed. Shortly after, Keough, promising to remove the tolls if elected, defeated Doyal in the Republican primary.
On April 9, 2019, shortly after taking office, Keough attempted to remove the tolls. However, the commissioners objected, stating that though the flyovers had been paid off for over a year, it was somehow still not known if the Texas Department of Transportation would pay for maintenance on the road if the tolls came off.
The commissioners then voted 3-2 against Keough’s plan, with Keough and Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack voting to remove the toll and Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, and Precinct 4 Commissioner James Metts voting to leave them on.
Conservative activists protested, making phone calls to commissioners and running a grassroots campaign against the tolls. Many concerned citizens and Republican precinct chairs showed up to commissioners court in person.
Several people then contacted TxDOT to ascertain their position, including Riley and conservative activist Eric Yollick. TxDOT confirmed they would take over maintenance for the flyovers if commissioners voted to remove the tolls.
At the commissioners’ May 28 meeting, Riley placed an item on the agenda to remove the tolls and made a motion to draft an agreement with TxDOT to do so. Noack insisted that the tolls come off immediately. The motion passed unanimously, and the tolls stopped at midnight.
Although it is very rare for a toll to be removed once put in place, 242 shows what citizens can accomplish when they get involved at the local level. Residents made their voices heard, and the commissioners listened and represented the will of the people.
The Montgomery County Republican Party came out a big winner as well, staking out a strong position against the tolls and advocating for it vociferously. The toll removal gives them an issue to campaign on in 2020 where Republicans delivered for the taxpayers.
“What an honor it has been to work on this issue for so long, [and] to finally get a positive win for the people,” said Keough’s chief of staff, Jason Millsaps, who did much of the research and administrative work behind removing the tolls.
While Montgomery County is toll free now, citizens are turning their attention to tolls planned for SH 249, which is currently being extended through Montgomery and Grimes counties.