First DFW Tollway Became Toll-Free After Debt Was Paid Off. Why Not the Others?

If you've been trolling Reddit anytime in the last week, you may have seen this article from June 2, 1968, in which Jack Davis, an engineer and manager for the Texas Turnpike Authority, was quoted in The Dallas Morning News. He spoke about the fledgling Dallas North Tollway project, just two years old, and its impermanence as a tollway:

"When revenue bonds for a project are finally paid off, however, the facility reverts to the state as part of its highway system, to be used free."

This little gem of a quote has all but remained buried for the last few decades. Recently, though, the online community of Dallasites has become enraged at what seems to be an unfulfilled promise.

Jack Davis wasn't exactly lying. The first tollway in Dallas was the 1955 turnpike between Dallas and Fort Worth. The road had begun as the first project for the newly formed Texas Turnpike Authority (in 1997, the North Texas Transportation Authority took over the TTA). In 1977, when all debts were cleared, the road moved under the public umbrella of the Texas Department of Transportation and became the toll-free Interstate 30.

But in that 1968 article Davis was referring to the Texas Turnpike Authority's second tollway project, the Dallas North Tollway. The project began in 1966, and apparently never reached fruition before "it was no longer a statewide practice to remove tolls from roadways due to a lack of state funding to maintain the roadways," according to the NTTA website.

When the Texas Turnpike Authority was created in 1953, the state only technically specified the DFW Turnpike for the elimination of tolls once debts were paid. Michael Rey, a spokesman for the North Texas Transportation Authority, says he is unaware that there was ever an official policy to make tollroads toll-free after debts were paid.

Which means that Davis' 1968 promise may have been a statement of unofficial intent. But since the debt for the Dallas North Tollway has never been paid off, and there's apparently no state budget for tollroad maintenance, there's no way to know for sure.

"The DFW Turnpike was a forerunner in this region, and that was a singular decision on that particular turnpike," Rey told Unfair Park. "And the Dallas North Tollway has had several extensions to it that have increased debt."

It's worth noting that, in 2013, NTTA's outstanding debt was around $325 million. Operating expenses were just over $116 million, and nearly $77 million was allotted for the improvement fund.

With an allotted 2013 budget of nearly $518 million, the NTTA could have broken even. But the debt continues to rise as construction and maintenance projects expand. Tolls, meanwhile, bring in a dependable stream of revenue.

"If tolls were eliminated permanently, there would not be other funds available to maintain the roads in their current smooth, safe and high quality manner," Rey later elaborated in an e-mail statement. Now that we think about it, it is hard to pass up the chance to bring in a steady flow of money, especially if the state continues to balk at maintenance funding.