A few years ago, a private, Dallas-based corporation announced it would like to build a private toll road, all with its own money, connecting northeast Dallas County to somewhere around Greenville, running basically parallel to the Interstate 30 and passing near Lake Lavon and Lake Ray Hubbard. The Texas Turnpike Corp., has been so enthusiastic about its idea that the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the regional transportation planning agency, has agreed to get involved and examine it.
The tollway is just an idea that's being studied, the agency's transportation department director Michael Morris has assured the worried property owners whose land might be in the route's way. It's not a done deal, officials have said, and they don't even know where exactly the route would go, if they find the toll road is necessary at all.
It seems likely, though, that the NCTCOG has found both a need for the tollway and has agreed to let the Texas Turnpike Corp. be the one to build it. At a joint NCTCOG/Texas Turnpike meeting Monday, Morris and other agency staffers announced that they had finished their long-awaited study into the toll proposal, which they lumped in with a general study about the entire area they identified as the Blacklands Corridor. They presented their results in a packet of PowerPoint slides and said that Monday's meeting would be the final government meeting on the topic.
"We are at our final recommendation, which you'll hear this evening, and again, thank you very much for coming out to hear these particular recommendations," Morris told about 1,300 people gathered in Rockwall, a crowd that was both ticked off and eager to find out more specifics on what the agency's recommendations actually are.
But the recommendations still didn't bring any clarity on what the actual route of the toll would be. The study concluded that a new toll road should be built, somewhere. In the hand-outs, the agency says its study identified a need for: "New Location Freeway/Tollway."
There's a map included for the "Freeway/Tollway," linking the Bush Turnpike to Greenville, but the route is still just a bunch of squiggly lines that are preliminary and "Subject To Further Study."
After presenting their vague study findings, the government staffers passed the microphone off to the Texas Turnpike Corp. With that, NCTCOG was finished.
"It's important to mention that this is the last meeting, as the COG staff stated, of their feasibility study," said Texas Turnpike Corp.'s Neal Barker. "However, it's the first of several public meetings that we're hosting for the Northeast Gateway Tollway Project." He promised that the public would get invited to numerous future meetings hosted by the private corporation, where everyone would learn more about the tollway.
The TTC says it's still studying where the route will be, if the tollway gets built at all. The company anticipates figuring out the actual route next spring and then submitting its final application to the Texas Transportation Commission sometime next year.
Even if there is a need for a private tollway, why does the Texas Turnpike Corp. automatically get to be the company to build it? The short answer: because no one else can, thanks to the Texas Legislature. Unlike other companies that bid for work on toll road projects created by the government, Texas Turnpike can move ahead on its own initiative.
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And with the power of eminent domain.
For the longer answer, NCTCOG spokesman Amanda Wilson directed me to the agency's website.
The Texas Turnpike Corp. has statutory authority, given by the Texas Legislature, to develop toll roads under certain conditions with TxDOT oversight. Firms that have submitted bids to the Texas Department of Transportation to develop toll projects as Comprehensive Development Agreements (LBJ Express, North Tarrant Express) do not have such authority and can only develop projects by responding to a solicitation by a public-sector entity such as TxDOT, the North Texas Tollway Authority or a Regional Mobility Authority.
Send your story tips to the author, Amy Silverstein.