TYLER, Texas (KETK) – A toll road with a reputation of costing locals more than their money has gained infamy in East Texas.

Dubbed by locals as “Terrible Toll 49,” this road’s reputation precedes it. A Facebook group was made in 2017 under that title and is still active years later with roughly 900 members. The page features locals sharing stories and concerns over the safety of East Texas’s only tollway.

“I feel like I take my life in my hands when I go down that road,” Tyler resident Elaine Hill said.

Others avoid it altogether, opting for another way to loop around Tyler.

“I won’t drive it myself,” Tyler resident Richard Petty said.

Pouring through Freedom of Information Act requests, state records, DPS statistics, testimony from locals, expert opinions and more, KETK News investigated the true story behind Toll 49, with the goal of answering a single question: Just how dangerous is it?


Toll 49 is ultimately planned to connect Tyler, Longview and Marshall. The project is unfinished, and the existing roadway spans from Highway 69 above Lindale to Highway 110 south of Tyler.

Much of Toll 49 remains a two-lane highway, with one lane going in each direction. Customers can pay the toll using a TxTag, and those without a tag will have their license plate caught by cameras and an invoice will be mailed to them.

Map showing Toll 49 as it exists in February 2023.

Toll 49 is a unique tollway in that it is owned and maintained by an RMA. RMAs, or Regional Mobile Authorities, are political subdivisions formed at the county level “to finance, acquire, design, construct, operate, maintain, expand or extend transportation projects,” tolled or non-tolled. It is a way the Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT, opens the door for private investments in the transportation system.

13 East Texas counties fall into North East Texas RMA, which was established in October 2004. Like all RMAs in the Lone Star State, NET RMA has a degree of autonomy but still answers to the Texas Transportation Commission.

NET RMA is the main agency tasked with operations, maintenance and potential expansion of Toll 49. It is governed by a Board of Directors representing each member county. On their website, many members cite the development of Toll 49 as a highlight of their work.

When asked for a statement regarding public safety complaints on Toll 49 obtained through KETK’s open records request, NET RMA responded with the following:

NET RMA listens to input from our community on Toll 49 and considers facts and information contained in accident investigation reports.



Though wrecks on Toll 49 might not outnumber wrecks on similar roadways in East Texas, the severity of wrecks that do happen plays a major factor in general public perception of road safety.

Dr. Mena Souliman is the Ronald D. Brazzel Endowed Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Tyler. He joined KETK morning anchor Judd Baker for a ride along on the tollway, explaining things from an engineering point of view.

“There are so many minor roadways in Tyler and East Texas, they have their own fair share of accidents, but they are not as severe, and that’s where I think problems arise,” Souliman said. “Here on the loop again, the minimum (speed limit) is 65 miles per hour, and the typical speed limit is 75 miles per hour. If an accident were to happen at that speed, this is where the severity will go up, and this is where it’s going to catch attention from the public.”

Fatal wrecks throughout the county are consistently reported on by local media, and therefore tend to draw more attention than non-fatal wrecks. When it comes to wrecks on Toll 49, statistics show that a higher percentage were fatal when compared to Smith County as a whole.

TxDOT data shows that, from 2017-2021, 0.84% of wrecks in Smith County were fatalities. On Toll 49 in that same time frame, 3.56% of crashes were fatalities, per data given to KETK News from DPS.

“So when we look at toll roads, even across the state, there’s a lot of traffic that goes on those roadways. A lot of people take them for convenience, and the number of crashes that turned out to be fatality crashes was surprising to me.”

DPS Sgt. Adam Albritton

There were 292 crashes on Toll 49 from 2017-2022, and 12 of those were fatal. More than half of reported crashes on Toll 49 – 66% of them– were due to speeding or crossing the center line, statistics show.

“I don’t think the road is to blame,” Albritton said. “I do think that we could prevent a lot of those crashes by making sure that we’re reducing our speed on the toll roads, making sure that our trailers are hitched properly and making sure to double check those before we get on the toll road.”


Complaints and concerns about safety remain a focal point for many East Texans when evaluating whether to take the toll road.

A public records request to NET RMA revealed several complaints from citizens over the years about the two-lane roadway design.

“One does not have to be a scientist or engineer to understand that when two vehicles are travelling toward one another at a combined speed of 150 miles per hour– with nothing but a painted line separating them– the outcome of their collision will often be catastrophic no matter what underlying cause triggers the accident,” one piece of feedback from a local resident said.

Another resident wrote to NET RMA to state that they believe the road should have been constructed as a four-lane highway from the beginning, and criticized the road’s intermittent passing lanes.

“I think the changes of adding two lanes to four lanes and back and forth have done nothing to make the highway safer. In fact, I think the areas where two lanes change back to one near entrance ramps make it more dangerous. Loop 49 is simply not worth the risk,” the person wrote.

Another person voiced their concerns about the lack of medians.

“It’s really as simple as loading on a flatbed trailer and laying them between the lanes,” the complaint said. “Yes, I understand that cost[s] money, but money is being made on the tollway daily, and lives are more important.”

NET RMA provided KETK News with a list of improvements they’ve done on Toll 49 over the past six years:

  • Widened in areas to accommodate additional passing lanes
  • Addition of vertical delineators (white plastic posts with yellow reflectors) on the pavement centerline at narrower areas
  • Rumble strips cut into pavement at centerline to warn drivers by feel and sound of crossing center line of road
  • Audible centerline striping (Yellow thermoplastic paint with raised bumps) to warn drivers by sound of crossing centerline
  • Resurfacing in various areas ensuring high quality skid resistant surfacing
  • Reflective pavement markers on centerline are placed at a closer spacing than required to improve visibility at night

Road safety measures such as lane markings, rumble strips, large reflective signage, vertical delineators and more can help drivers get from Point A to Point B more safely, but there are more options to cut down on head-on collisions, according to the U.S. DOT’s Federal Highway Administration.

A multi-state study by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program determined “the addition of a median barrier on a rural divided highway can be expected to reduce fatal or injury cross median crashes by up to 96%.”

“So over the past several years, they constructed rumble strips, and I think these are effective,” Souliman said. “But there’s other alternatives that of course, again, a physical barrier would be top choice so whatever is going on in the opposite side, you as a careful driver on the on the other side, you will not be affected.”

Courtesy of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) shared data from 2016-2018 about roadway characteristics that were present in fatal head-on crashes. Undivided roadways were present in 85% of those crashes.

NET RMA told KETK News they do not have a documented study that shows the estimated cost of installing barriers between lanes.

With speeding cited as another main cause of wrecks on the roadway, DPS Sgt. Albritton spoke about frequency of trooper patrols on roads like Toll 49.

“Any time that we’re out on patrol, we try to make sure that we’re in the areas that do have a lot of crashes, especially fatality crashes,” Albritton said.

While patrolling roadways like this, law enforcement isn’t just looking for speeders– they’re looking for those going under the speed limit as well, as slower traffic might encourage riskier behaviors from fellow motorists.

“On a toll road, especially with a two lane road, if we have someone going 55, that’s going to encourage people behind them to pass them in the oncoming lane, and that could be a danger to the oncoming traffic,” Albritton said.

According to FARS data, 37% of fatalities in Texas in 2020 were speeding-related, which is 8% above the national figure.


Souliman said changes like the ones NET RMA lists are all measures that could help cut down on wrecks, but what happens on the road is ultimately up to the drivers.

According to Souliman, transportation construction differs from many other types of projects because of something known as “the human factor,” or what the driver will do once behind the wheel. Factors like a driver’s reflex time, distractions, line of sight and more can weigh heavily into one’s odds of a wreck. That, compounded with vehicle elements like headlight brightness, tire condition and more make it hard for engineers to account for all possible outcomes once a driver is on the road.

“Even if you are a very careful driver and everything is great on your side, if there’s something wrong on the other side, you may be negatively affected,” Souliman said.

In short, the probability of a wreck boils down to a combination of factors: the driver, the vehicle, the roadway and the weather conditions.

This all begs the question: Is it fair to blame the road?

“To some extent, yes and no,” Souliman said. “The answer is really a mixed yes and no because a big chunk of the reason what I mean, even to an equivalent percentage would be the driver, the vehicle performance, the weather condition, as well as the roadway itself.”

Sgt. Albritton said that between distracted driving and speeding, many crashes on Toll 49 and beyond are preventable.

“I think if we took how many crashes total we worked on Highway 31, and how many crashes that we’ve worked on Highway 155, how many crashes we worked on Highway 110, U.S. 69, versus the fatality crashes on there, it would be similar to Toll 49. I don’t think Toll 49 is any more dangerous of a road than any of those other roads that I just mentioned.”

DPS Sgt. Adam Albritton


NET RMA reported a total revenue for Fiscal Year 2022 as $24,269,459, with $19,792,225 of that being gross toll revenues collected through the end of the fiscal year, according to their annual report.

In 2022, NET RMA reported over $14 million in annual transactions on Toll 49, which was roughly on-par with the previous year. Toll transactions took a dip in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic.

A graph showing Toll 49’s annual transactions, courtesy of NET RMA.

In 2022, NET RMA announced a partnership with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) to provide improved billing and customer service systems for Toll 49 customers.

Toll 49 rate chart, courtesy of NET RMA.

Current toll rates are listed on their website, but are designed to increase every two years.

Though funding was received to start the Toll 49 project, additional funds are needed to finish it. NET RMA’s website says that tolls speed up that process “by as many as 30 years.”

Segments of the toll road were funded separately as they were formed over time. Altogether, Toll 49 so far has cost more than $190 million, according to information from NET RMA.


Toll 49 became the foundation for NET RMA’s inception, and its maintenance and eventual expansion remain a main pillar of the authority’s mission.

Toll 49 wasn’t constructed in one go– the first segment of the road (from Highway 155 to FM 756) opened in August 2006. Segments two through five were made periodically between 2008 to 2019, making the total road span from I-20 in Lindale to Highway 110 south of Tyler.

Concerns about the safety of the two-lane roadway seem to have existed since its inception. A report published in 2007 by Texas A&M University Transportation Institute performed a case study analysis of the toll road implementation in Tyler, and mentioned concerns of locals even then:

“To secure initial construction funding using conventional sources, the cross section was dropped from four lanes to two lanes,” according to the study. “During focus groups with the public, researchers found that the public was not aware of this change and were highly concerned with the prospect of a two-lane highway, more so than with the proposal to add tolling.”

Concerns over the two-lane design remain in place even now, years later. On their website, NET RMA said that Toll 49 is currently two lanes with no centerline barriers on the roadway “so travelers will be able to pass slower vehicles when conditions allow a safe passing movement.”

The plan, ultimately, is to expand Toll 49 into a four-lane divided highway with a grassy center median. A timeline on that is not yet available, though NET RMA did apply for a federal grant to fund a four-lane divided highway with a permanent concrete median barrier on a 4.5-mile stretch of Toll 49 between Highway 64 and Highway 31.

Diagram from NET RMA showing eventual plans for expansion into a four-lane design for Toll 49.


The Toll 49 project, deemed NET RMA’s top priority, is comprised of three previously unrelated projects as listed below:

  • Toll 49 – Outer Loop
    • The proposed outer loop around Tyler.
  • Longview Outer Loop
    • Also referred to as the East Texas Hourglass, this connects Marshall and the US 59/I-69 corridor.
  • Lindale Relief Route
    • An extension of Toll 49 from I-20 West of Tyler to US 69 north of Lindale.

To get it constructed, NET RMA divided the toll road into different segments. Segments 1-5 have been completed and make up Toll 49 as it exists today.

Segment 6 would loop the road around east of Tyler, spanning from Highway 110 to US 271. It will start as a two-lane road with intermittent passing lanes, with ultimate plans to expand it into four lanes with a grassy median or concrete barrier.

An Environmental Impact Study was initiated on March 27, 2020 for Segment 6. EIS studies look at socioeconomic resources, water resources, biological resources, historic and archaeological resources, hazardous materials, traffic noise and more. NET RMA says an EIS can take anywhere from three years to a decade to complete.

The exact route for Segment 6 is not yet defined. The EIS is considering three different route alternatives, outlined below, though any of them are subject to change.

This map, courtesy of NET RMA and subject to change, shows three possible routes for continuation of Toll 49.

A Freedom of Information Act request to NET RMA revealed complaints about the potential expansion of the roadway. Among the complaints are concerns about noise and air pollution, acquisition of property from existing landowners and safety.

In email correspondence dated Nov. 22, 2019, NET RMA said the Teal Adjusted route (shown above) has 16 potential residential displacements, the Purple route has 36 and the Yellow Adjusted route has 40.

The project was put on hold in July 2020 and remains that way, according to NET RMA. The next step is for the agency to hold a “public scoping meeting,” which invites the general public to give their input.

NET RMA has an online form to send questions and sign up for updates, as well as a project hotline number (903-594-4831).


There’s no easy answer, at least not an objective one, as to whether Toll 49 is as “terrible” as they say.

What is for sure is that the option to use the tollway is just that: an option. There’s a degree of risk involved anytime you get behind the wheel, and the facts and figures that weigh into that risk are diverse and abundant.

“Yeah, it’s an option to use that road,” Albritton said. “It is a convenience to get around a lot of the stoplights and city traffic and things of that nature. But I mean, if you feel that it’s safer to go through the city and stop at the red lights, you have that option as well.”

Toll 49, even with its deadly reputation, continues to rake in millions each year. Deaths on Texas roadways happen daily, with yearly totals consistently in the thousands.

So even on a road as seemingly shadowed by tragedy as this one, if you do choose to pay the toll, taking steps to make your trip as safe as possible are vital.

DPS shared the following tips:

  • Obey speed limits (maximum and minimum)
  • Reduce your speed during rainy weather and wet roadways
  • Minimize distractions (like cell phone use, or distractions from passengers).
  • Double check that loads on pickup trucks are properly strapped down
  • Make sure trailers are kitched and secured with a safety chain
  • Don’t drink and drive

As time goes on and NET RMA continues their top-priority project, this road’s reputation will surely precede it, wherever it goes.