From the beginning, the private toll road that would run parallel to Interstate 30 seemed like a sure thing, no matter how many people who lived in the way who said they didn't want the road.
"I think that maybe the ship has already sailed, and all these meetings out there, the public comments, it's putting a check in the box," Lavon's Mayor Chuck Teske says in last Thursday's cover story. "I really don't think they care what the residents out here think."
Late last Friday, however, local transportation planners suddenly seemed to care what the residents thought. The North Central Texas Council of Governments announced in a press release Friday afternoon that it is no longer recommending the toll road proposal be included in the Mobility 2035 plan, a key document that outlines where federal transportation money is going to go.
NCTCOG's transportation director Michael Morris had previously appeared pretty enthusiastic about the tollway. But he says that the broad public criticism is what made his agency ultimately back away from the idea. "We thought we had consensus that we should proceed in this direction, and obviously we were wrong," he says. "Obviously we've had huge amounts of criticism and concern about the project since then."
As I documented in last week's feature, a little-known corporation called the Texas Turnpike Corp. has for the last two years been trying to get support to build the first private toll road in Texas. In fact, the company in 2012 had claimed that the project was more or less a done deal: "Significant pre-development work has been completed to date and the Project is now ready to move into the development phase," the corporation said at the time.
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The NCTCOG promised last year to slow the company down and conduct an independent feasibility study into whether the project was necessary.
Yet even before the study was underway, the Texas Turnpike Corp. was boasting NCTCOG's support. In a 2012 report on the project, the Texas Turnpike Corp. wrote that "NCTCOG's model showed that the Project was a needed road as both an untolled and tolled facility." (Morris says he warned the Texas Turnpike Corp. from the beginning that they'd need to win over the public to get the project approved).
It's the Regional Transportation Council that gets the final vote. But without NCTCOG's powerful support, winning RTC's approval is unlikely. Morris says citizens expressed concerns to him not only about the tollway but the fact that the Texas Turnpike Corp. is still able to use eminent domain under a loophole in the state law. "We're flagging that to the Legislature to see if they want to do anything about that or not," Morris says.