School buses could be exempt from toll fees with new Texas House bill

Travis County

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Del Valle Independent School District’s School Board vice president said the money spent annually on school bus toll bills is equivalent to the salary of a teacher.

The district has spent an average of just over $51,000 each fiscal year since 2015-16. For the 2019-20 fiscal year, it was a little less — $48,000 — because of the pandemic.

“That’s huge for our district. There’s other things like technology and our safety and reading literacy programs,” School Board Vice President Darla Wegner said. “If we had this money every year, we would find something — whether it’s another teacher or program.” 

School bus toll expenditures courtesy of Del Valle ISD
School bus toll expenditures courtesy of Del Valle ISD

Wegner reached out to Texas House Representative Eddie Rodriguez after remembering he spearheaded the legislation for toll road exemption for emergency vehicles.

Inspired by Del Valle ISD, Rodriguez authored House Bill 130 with hopes of amending the law restricting public school buses from highway toll exemption in Texas. In December, the Del Valle ISD School Board unanimously voted to support the bill.

Rodriguez laid out the bill to the Transportation Committee of the House on Tuesday.

“I want to just make sure there’s as much money as possible that stays in the classroom,” Rodriguez said. 

Ann Hatton, Del Valle ISD director of transportation, said the district tries to avoid toll roads the best they can. However, 30 of the 175 miles of Del Valle’s bus routes are toll roads. 

“We currently have eight of our 90 routes routed on toll roads due to the distance the bus has to travel and the traffic associated during route times,” Hatton said. “The students would end up riding the bus for about an hour and a half if we didn’t take the toll.”

The Tesla plant located in Del Valle’s district adds to the complications of the toll problems, Hatton said. Last week, five drivers’ clock-in times got pushed back 15 minutes to avoid shift changes at the facility.

“We were getting caught in that traffic, and we couldn’t even get to our first stop to start picking up the kids. So we had to change our clock-in time for some of our drivers, so that they can stay off of the toll roads and use 973 instead,” Hatton said. 

The bill will be voted on by the Transportation Committee in the House in its second hearing.

“I’m going to get it out of committee as soon as possible, and then work the calendars and get on the floor before the session ends,” Rodriguez said.

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