Sunday, January 08, 2006

"It's a good idea to have the region come together. But some issues are still raw in the region and were not addressed today."

Transit leaders try not to get detoured by tolls issue

Sunday, January 8, 2006

Tony Hartzel
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

Last month, a heated toll road debate exposed a rift between leaders on the region's east and west sides.

Last week, many of those leaders sat down to talk about critical transportation issues facing the region.

And in North Texas' own version of a transportation family meeting, the topic of toll roads was hardly discussed.

It was still on many minds, but leaders chose to look for common ground on the many other topics that face the region.

Air quality issues, a proposed regional transit network and the state gas tax all took center stage at the meeting, which brought together the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition and the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition for only the second time.

Things have not gone well recently, but that shouldn't stop the discussions, said North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino, who is chairman of the Tarrant County group.
"If we can't discuss things we can agree on, how can we discuss things we can't agree on?" he asked.

Regional tensions rose last month when the North Texas Tollway Authority board of directors voted 4-3 on a new toll rate measure that could result in setting the lowest possible toll rates for Fort Worth's Southwest Parkway and the Bush Turnpike's eastern extension in Rowlett, Sachse and Garland.

The measure, which was endorsed by four board members from Tarrant, Denton and Johnson counties, would require toll revenue from roads in Dallas and Collin counties to fund a large portion of those projects.

Three board members from Collin and Dallas counties voted for other proposals that would have required higher initial toll rates and larger regular toll rate increases on the two projects. They argued that higher toll rates are required because the roads will not raise enough revenue on their own to meet their costs.

"It's a good idea to have the region come together. But some issues are still raw in the region and were not addressed today," said Paul Wageman, the Collin County representative on the tollway authority's board of directors.

While Collin County residents are concerned that the measure could amount to a "Robin Hood" plan, regional leaders must keep talking because of the monumental challenges facing the area, said Collin County Judge Ron Harris, who is co-chairman of the Dallas coalition.
"We have to stick together. North Texas' strength is in our togetherness and partnerships," he said.

North Texas must and will present a united front to state lawmakers on issues including the creation of a regional commuter rail network, Mr. Trevino said. Local officials are meeting regularly with lawmakers to push for help in creating a revenue source for a 260-mile, $2.2 billion system.

Air quality could pose an even greater challenge to the region in the next few years. A consultant warned policymakers that North Texas must dramatically cut certain emissions by 2010 or face the potential loss of federal highway construction money.

Decisions about how to cut emissions – which could include lowering speed limits for heavy trucks and enforcing stricter standards on locomotives and construction equipment – will require a united front from regional leaders.

• All aboard for the Fort Worth stock show and rodeo. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority has two bus routes that connect the Trinity Railway Express commuter rail line to the Southwest Exposition and Livestock Show, which runs from Jan. 14 through Feb. 5. Routes 2 and 7 run from the TRE's Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Fort Worth to the Will Rogers Center, giving Dallas-area rail passengers a way to ride the rails to Fort Worth and also get to the stock show on weekdays and Saturdays. The bus rides are free with a premium TRE day pass. For more information, call 817-215-8600 or visit
Tony Hartzel can be reached at and at P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265.

© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co