Wednesday, March 22, 2006

TTC-35 favors Big D over Cowtown.

Proposed toll road may go east of Metroplex

Wed, Mar. 22, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN — Tarrant County officials are concerned that a planned toll road viewed by many Texans as a key to future economic growth may bypass the western Metroplex.

“We’re arriving at the conclusion that Fort Worth and Tarrant County aren’t getting the level of consideration needed, and that’s unacceptable,” former Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said.

Barr and other members of a Trans-Texas Corridor advisory committee met Wednesday to review plans for the privately funded toll road and high-speed rail corridor from North Texas to San Antonio.

Wednesday’s briefing came just a few weeks before the expected release of the project’s environmental study, which will include maps narrowing the location of the proposed road to within a 10-mile-wide swath. About 50 public hearings will be held across the state before the project is submitted to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

A private firm chosen by the state to manage the project, Madrid-based Cintra, showed committee members a route that Cintra estimates would generate the most toll revenue — and it’s a route that would favor Big D over Cowtown.

Cintra has proposed building a toll road that runs generally parallel to Interstate 35 from San Antonio to Hillsboro, then follows I-35E in a semicircle around the eastern fringe of Dallas. That project is expected to be under construction by 2011 in the Dallas area and to be completed by 2015.

A second semicircle would eventually be built around the western fringe of Fort Worth, but not until 2025 or after, Cintra officials said.

Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said he was dismayed that Cintra’s proposed route did not incorporate the work of the Metroplex’s Regional Transportation Council, which for two years has worked on a plan to bring the Trans-Texas passenger lanes, freight and passenger rail lines through the metro area, rather than around it.

The RTC plan also ensures that truck traffic would circumvent the Metroplex both to the east and west.

“If the presentation comes out and it only goes around us to the east, somebody’s going to have to explain to us why you listened to us and told us what we wanted was great, but then didn’t do it,” Whitley said.

Jose Maria Lopez, Cintra’s director of U.S. projects, told Metroplex leaders that Cintra was simply presenting the most economical route but would build the road any way the state desires.

Cintra’s proposed Dallas route was chosen because preliminary traffic studies suggest it is where “more people are going to vote with their wheels,” Lopez said.

But he added: “We have given the state of Texas our view of where it can be built more economically and faster, but if they want it to go west, we can go west.”

The catch is that Cintra’s route is based on the assumption that tolls can cover all the road costs, state officials said.

If Metroplex leaders want better local connections to the corridor, tax dollars or other funds may need to be added to the project.

But Phil Russell, turnpike director for the Texas Department of Transportation, said the agency would work closely with Metroplex officials to ensure that funding is made available to bring the corridor through the Metroplex, rather than around it.

“We are listening,” he said after the contentious meeting. “We think the ideas coming out of Dallas-Fort Worth are great ideas.”

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: