Saturday, November 12, 2005

Toll roads to help pay for commuter rail

Agency looks at making entire project a toll road

Sat, Nov. 12, 2005


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

The North Texas Tollway Authority is interested in building Southwest Parkway as a toll road all the way to Cleburne.

Previous plans called for eight miles of toll road from Interstate 30 to Altamesa Boulevard/Dirks Road in Fort Worth, and for 15 miles of non-toll freeway to U.S. 67 in Cleburne.

But tollway authority Executive Director Allan Rutter said Friday that his agency would conduct a final, detailed toll study for the entire road. As it stands now, the plan is to open the eight-mile stretch by 2010, but Rutter said it's not out of the question that some of the 15-mile stretch to Cleburne could be built simultaneously.

"It's a rural area," Rutter said during a break in the agency's meeting at a Denton hotel. "It would be easier and cheaper to build" than the portion leading from downtown to southwest Fort Worth.

There have even been discussions about setting the toll rate high enough to help pay for a commuter rail line from Cleburne to Fort Worth. Johnson County officials are interested in both the road and the rail line, and they've requested a permanent seat on the tollway authority board of directors, which is still researching its rules for letting a new county join.

In other action Friday, the tollway board:

Discussed toll rates for Southwest Parkway, also known as Texas 121T, and other roads in the tollway authority system, but members did not reach an agreement. Competing proposals would set the Southwest Parkway toll at 16 to 19 cents per mile -- making it among the most expensive in the nation. If set at 19 cents per mile, the cost would be about $1.10 for driving the length of the road, according to updated figures from the tollway authority. Previous estimates placed the starting rate at approximately $1.30.

Agreed to explore building a toll road on Texas 121 in Collin County. If the tollway authority decides not to get involved, Collin County officials have expressed interest in forming their own regional mobility authority and building it themselves. That would also ensure that toll revenue stays in their county. A third option is to allow the private sector to build the toll road, as has been proposed for Texas 121 in Denton County from the Grapevine/Lewisville border to Frisco.

The tollway authority could build the Collin County stretch of Texas 121 for about $369 million, Rutter said, and traffic would be so heavy that the tolls would easily pay off the debt.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816
© 2005 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: