Wednesday, November 09, 2005

“We're basically being herded towards a CDA (comprehensive development agreement). "

Local tolling control considered ‘dead'

McKinney Courier-Gazette
Copyright 2005

Collin County Commissioners on Tuesday reported that the possibility of the Texas Department of Transportation allowing the county to manage excess revenue from tolling S.H. 121 through a local government corporation is “dead.”

Commissioners, in deciding to toll S.H. 121, said that their acceptance of tolls on the highway hinged on local control: commissioners want to keep the rate low, they want the board that decides the rate and when to increase it to be locally appointed, and most importantly, they said they wanted excess revenue to be allocated towards road projects in Collin County. To do that, they asked TxDOT if they could manage the money and decisions on toll rates through a local government corporation, while the North Texas Tollway Authority operated the facility.

Jack Hatchell said that he expects a letter from TxDOT rejecting the county's proposition sometime soon. The main problem with the local government corporation option is that TxDOT wants to charge $200 million to $500 million for the use of state right-of-way on which to operate the toll booths - money the commissioners say, they don't have.

Though Hatchell said that the local government corporation option is “dead,” their second choice is for the NTTA to both manage and operate the road, but the problem with that option is that according to NTTA policies, funds may still be distributed across the four counties served by the NTTA. Commissioners would have to negotiate with NTTA to find a means to ensure that the money goes only to Collin County.

Bob Brown, a TxDOT deputy district engineer, said on Monday the state will almost assuredly make the construction and operation decision. There's no other example of a local entity controlling a regional and state road, he said.

According to the county's proposal, the local government corporation could build and manage the $752 million tollway between North Central Expressway and the Dallas North Tollway, building interchanges at both ends. Further, it calls for a May election in which county voters would decide whether to approve $400 million in standby ad valorem taxes if the tollway does not generate expected revenues. The Collin County-controlled organization would assume all financial obligations. Tolls would not be set higher than what would be needed to pay debt and operate and maintain the lanes.

Collin County's proposal would “Balkanize the region,” Brown said.

“That's like the area of Yugoslavia where the entire continent began fighting one another over local differences,” he said. “Other parts of the Metroplex are starting to think, ‘If Collin County is getting their own, then maybe they can take over the NTTA (North Texas Tollway Authority).' Dallas County motorists have paid for years Š for tolls through Plano and Frisco,” Brown said.

Addressing his personal views, Brown stressed that the Texas Highway Commission would make the final decision.

“We don't want to battle with Collin County; we think there is still room for negotiations,” Brown said. “We want to develop a partnership with them that meets the needs of the citizens of Collin County.”

The least favorable option, according to commissioners, is a comprehensive development agreement. Under such an agreement, TxDOT would choose the operator and funds would be distributed regionally.

“Regional use of the funds, at least for me, would not be acceptable at this time,” said county judge Ron Harris. “The kicker would be how much we ask our citizens to pay.”

Commissioners have repeatedly expressed the desire to keep toll costs to users low-15 cents per mile, or rates comparable to those charged by the NTTA are what the commissioners want to see.

“We're basically being herded towards a CDA (comprehensive development agreement). Even if NTTA does it, it will still be treated like a CDA,” Harris said. “But whether NTTA does it or not, the main thing is local control.”

If one of the private companies vying for the work gets the contract, Hatchell wants Collin County to have some type of oversight role.

Private companies have approached the state for the right to build on the public right-of-way and obtain the revenues.

The news could threaten the pact Collin County has made with the affected cities of Plano, Allen, McKinney and Frisco, in which all cities agreed to support tolling only if excess revenue is distributed to projects within the county.

“It's real frustrating that they would put through charade of encouraging local control and ask for us to come up with their own plan if not going to consider it,” said Plano Mayor Pat Evans. “Our plan frees up funds for the state to use in other places. We offered to take it off their plate to protect our citizens.”

If the cities do pull out of the agreement, the Regional Transportation Commission of the North Central Texas Council of Governments will mediate with them, and if a decision cannot be reached, the RTC will vote on whether or not to toll the road, and “we don't have the votes,” said commissioner Hatchell.

The commissioners will meet publicly with city officials Nov. 14, fro 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Allen City Hall to discuss their options.

Staff Writer Amy Morenz contributed to this report.

Contact Krystal De Los Santos at

© 2005 McKinney Courier-Gazette