By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Tolls for thee: Buzz is broke. All Buzz's friends—both of them—are broke. The feds are broke. The state is broke.
All God's children are broke.
So who's going to pay for all the new roads a growing Dallas County needs? Well, you will, assuming you're not too broke to drive.
That's at least one possible scenario under a proposal from Republican County Commissioner Maurine Dickey, who this week circulated a memo that could lead to the creation of a Dallas County Toll Road Authority led by the commissioners court.
Before you hurt yourself gritting your teeth at the thought, understand this: Dickey is not a big fan of toll roads herself. She prefers "managed lanes" that mix free lanes and faster toll lanes on the same road. But, yes, she is suggesting that the commissioners court—that fractious, argumentative bunch—take a big step in assuming more responsibility for transportation. Sure, why not? They've done such a fine job in funding the jail and investigating the constables and just plain getting along.
Sorry. Buzz is being snarky. Truth is, what Dickey is proposing is fairly straightforward: State law currently allows the county to create a toll authority to tap its credit and form partnerships with other agencies to build roads. There are a dozen road projects the county considers vital to keep gridlock at bay, among them expanding Highway 183, building the Loop 9 tollway in the southern part of the county—even the Trinity Parkway (God forbid).
"Right now, there's no way to build any of these projects. We're simply out of money," says Dickey, whose proposal got a first look by her fellow commissioners Tuesday and will face a later vote. "What I was really wanting [Tuesday] was an opportunity for some flexibility."
Dickey says she's not proposing the county get into the road-building business or duplicate the functions of the North Texas Tollway Authority. Any roads the county funds with help from the proposed authority would be built by contractors, and the county could potentially contract with the NTTA to operate them.
Toll roads are becoming a politically toxic subject these days, and Dickey fears the Legislature, in its next session, may change the law allowing the county toll road authority. And as it stands now, with the NTTA's decision last month to complete Texas 161 and its plan to take on Southwest Parkway in Tarrant County, NTTA is tapped out.
"If we...depend on NTTA...it's going to be 2015 to a decade before we can build any new roads," Dickey says.