In January, before many people were aware that a little-known corporation with the powers of eminent domain wanted to build a private toll road through the rural communities east of Lake Lavon and Lake Ray Hubbard, the Texas Department of Transportation was promising in a written agreement to help the company get approval for the tollway from the Texas Transportation Commission. "TxDOT agrees to support the Corporation in its efforts to perform activities required to be completed before applying for or obtaining approval from the Commission under the applicable provisions by reviewing and commenting on the preliminary Project studies and other documentation prepared by the Corporation..." the agreement says.
The agreement, called a memorandum of understanding, also discusses a potential route for the tollway that has never been publicly discussed before, a route that would have invaded downtown Dallas: "In addition, a potential Phase III could extend the project westward from the President George Bush Turnpike towards the Dallas central business district," the agreement says.
In public meetings, the Texas Turnpike Corporation and the North Central Texas Council of Governments have only discussed a route that starts at the Bush Turnpike and extends east to Greenville, but that safely leaves all of us urban Dallasites out of the equation.
Had the idea of a third route from the Bush Turnpike to downtown Dallas been publicly known, the Blacklands toll road proposal would likely have been even more wildly unpopular than it currently is. As it is, because of public outcry the North Central Texas Council of Governments last month finally agreed to back off on its support for the tollway. "We thought we had consensus that we should proceed in this direction, and obviously we were wrong," NCTCOG transportation director Michael Morris said last month.
To be sure, TxDOT's January 2014 agreement with the Texas Turnpike Corporation makes no promises, explaining that the tollway still needs approval from various government bodies before TxDOT can let construction happen. The memorandum "does not serve as approval from TxDOT or the Commission to construct the Project," the agreement says.
But the agreement makes clear that TxDOT was ready to embrace kicking people off their land for a new tollway, should the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Regional Transportation Council give the tollway the green light. The corporation, the memorandum says, "has all rights and powers granted under former Chapter 11, Title 32," the law that gave private tollway companies the power of eminent domain before it was repealed in 1991. The Texas Turnpike Corporation still has eminent domain powers because it formed one day before the 1991 repeal went into effect.
TxDOT sent the memorandum to us and to Representative Cindy Burkett in response to an open letter she wrote criticizing the agency last month. Burkett wanted to know why TxDOT included the Blacklands toll road project in an important TxDOT planning document called the UTP before the agency had formally approved the tollway or had finished with its public meeting process.
TxDOT responded to Burkett with a semi-apology, saying that they may not have included the project in the UTP had they known the concerns it wold raise and that TxDOT would remove the project from the document if the Regional Transportation Council votes against the tollway proposal. The RTC hasn't voted yet -- the vote is scheduled to take place in a meeting today. The NCTCOG, as we've reported, has already withdrawn its support and recommended that the RTC not approve the project. "We are aware that numerous citizens have raised objections to the project at a recent public meeting held by NCTCOG regarding this project," TxDOT assures Burkett in its letter.
If the RTC rejects the project, all you Dallas people who live somewhere in between the Bush Turnpike and the downtown Dallas should probably send a warm thank-you note to the rural property owners who have been organizing a massive resistance to this tollway.
The TxDOT's full letter and the attached MOU is below:
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.