At some point next year, a Dallas-based toll company may get permission from the Texas Department of Transportation to build the only toll road in Texas that is totally supported by private finance. The exact route is something that the Texas Turnpike Corp. is still figuring out, but rural property owners who might be in the way are worried, because the TTC, though private, is legally able to use eminent domain.
"The law gives Texas Turnpike Corp. the ability to negotiate and ultimately pay a fair market price for property that is for public use," the company says in a recent presentation. Though a 1991 state law bans the creation of private toll companies, the TTC was formed shortly before it went into effect, allowing the TTC to retain the special power of kicking people off their own land if a project promises to be really awesome for the rest of the public.
On the plus side, the TTC says that it's at least still subject to Senate Bill 18, the law Governor Rick Perry signed in 2011 that is supposed to make eminent domain more difficult and costly for government agencies trying to take land.
The North Texas Council of Governments has determined that we need another tollway -- everywhere! -- but specifically in this case in an area they identified as the Blacklands Corridor. The Texas Turnpike Corp. wants to step up and be the company to build that proposed tollway. NTCOG says that the TTC is the only private developer willing to take on the project so far.
The proposed route of the TTC's Northeast Corridor Gate Project would run from the Interstate 30 in Hunt County to the George Bush Turnpike in Dallas County, possibly hitting up Rockwall and Collin County on the way. The giant red circle that the TTC has drawn on a map as its proposed route leaves open way too many possibilities for local governments to feel comfortable.
"We'd like to be able to tie the sort of spaghetti lines on the map to some properties and to some real locations on the ground," says Rockwall City Manager Rick Crowley. The Rockwall City Council last month passed a resolution opposing the tollway, at least until the city learns what the actual route will be.
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Neal Barker, a project developer at the TTC, says his company plans to present a more precise map sometime in November. Then, in spring 2015, after a few more public hearings, the company plans to present its environmental assessment to the public. Sometime later in 2015, though Barker isn't sure of the actual month, the TTC will submit its application to the Texas Transportation Commission.
As far as which properties will be subject to eminent domain, "I know that everyone really wants to know it," Barker says, "but we don't know it yet."
The North Texas Council of Governments had scheduled a meeting to discuss the project on September 4, at an elementary school in Lavon, but the fire marshal ruled that the hundreds of people who showed up posed a hazard, and the meeting was called off. The NTCOG rescheduled the meeting for September 22 at Rockwall's performing arts center, a place we assume is a lot bigger than the school.
"If we continue to have several hundred people interested," in coming to meetings, Barker says, "then we need to take the time to address people's concern. Somehow, we're not communicating well enough."