The Austin Statesman website has an Austin Toll Road Calculator that’s interesting. You can click on your entry and exit points on the map to find out the cost of a certain trip. (you may have to log in or register at Statesman.com to be able to use it – sorry)
Every since I paid $2 to drive a couple of miles on Toll Road 130 coming from Hutto shortly after it opened, it occurred to me that the cheap homes in Hutto are not so cheap if you’re a commuter.
For example, using the interactive toll calculator, there are a lot of $3 one-way trips you can create around Austin (I even mapped a $4.50 one-way trip), but let’s just say you live in Hutto and come in on 130 to the Hwy 290 exit and on into downtown. That’s a $2 trip each way.
Let’s say you have 200 work days a year. That’s 200 x $4 = $800 per year in toll fees, which is $67 per month. Since you’re also driving 27 miles each way, I’m going to call that an additional 17 miles each way compared to what you’d drive from South Austin, so that’s an additional 6,800 miles per year. At 15 miles to the gallon at $3 per gallon, that’s an additional $1360 per year in gas, or $113 per month.
So, the cheap home in the Austin outskirts is now $180 ($67+$113) per month in additional commuting costs. I haven’t even added in higher water bills, higher property taxes, etc. (compared to Austin) nor have we factored in higher operating costs and depreciation for your vehicle (more frequent oil changes, tires, loss of value due to high miles, etc.) or the additional time away from your family while commuting.
The point is, the cheap housing that draws many buyers to the outskirt areas of Austin can in fact be an illusion once you factor in all of the total costs of living further out. That $180 per month would be better spent building equity in your closer in home that keeps you off of toll roads. Just something to think about before you get all starry-eyed over that big 2800 sqft house in Hutto that only costs $200K, but leaves you with a 30 mile toll road commute each way. Yes, it’s bigger, and newer than the old homes you find closer in for the same price. But are you really, truly calculating the “price” correctly? You have to factor in total cost of ownership, of which commuting costs are a big part.