Friday, April 28, 2006

More circular reasoning

N. Texas pushes big loop option


Gordon Dixon
Fort worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

North Texas leaders want a giant outer loop around the Metroplex for cars, trucks and trains, rather than allowing the state to build a toll road bypassing the area.

The proposed loop could be about 200 miles long — nearly triple the length of the Capital Beltway in Washington — based upon conceptual drawings by the North Central Texas Council of Governments. Motorists who use the loop would likely pay tolls.

It’s being pitched by North Texas leaders as an alternative to the Trans-Texas Corridor, a privately funded toll road that, according to preliminary plans, would steer automobile traffic well east or west of the Metroplex. Area leaders worry that such a bypass would pull jobs away from the urban core and into the countryside.

Tarrant County politicians and business leaders, who until now have been careful not to speak too critically of Trans-Texas, say they are ready to conduct a vocal campaign against the plans unless changes are made that reflect the local preference for a mega-loop. The change came earlier this month, after state officials unveiled drawings still showing that Trans-Texas route as a Dallas-Fort Worth bypass.

“We don’t want to leapfrog undeveloped areas and create pockets of problems,” Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley said. “That’s just not acceptable, and not worth it to us. We want to be organized in our growth.”

The proposed loop would wrap around Fort Worth, Dallas, Denton, Mansfield and more than 100 other cities in Tarrant, Wise, Denton, Collin and Dallas counties. It would tie into existing roads.

As for Trans-Texas, the Texas Department of Transportation will conduct more than 50 public hearings statewide this summer, so residents can learn about the plan to criss-cross the state with toll roads and high-speed rail lines. The most likely scenario is that Trans-Texas would be built east of the Metroplex, although an alternate route west of the area is still an option.

There is still time to change the Trans-Texas study area and bring the toll roads closer to the heart of the Metroplex, Transportation Department spokeswoman Gabriela Garcia said.

“Right now, the question is, how do you connect Oklahoma to Mexico,” Garcia said, adding that the first of a two-tier environmental study will continue through mid-2007. “We really want to connect to the city centers. We just can’t do it yet. Patience at this point is still key. Give us time to get through tier one and answer all those questions, and then we’ll work on ... the justification for moving it further north or south.”

An outer loop isn’t really a new idea. Plans to build a Loop 9 around the greater Dallas area go back to the 1950s and are still in the region’s long-term plans.

But until now, planners didn’t think that another circular road would be needed until the mid-21st century.

That began to change four years ago with Trans-Texas, Gov. Rick Perry’s plan to criss-cross the state with a network of superwide toll roads, rail lines and utility corridors.

The first component of Trans-Texas, a $6 billion leg from San Antonio to North Texas, is being planned by private consortium Cintra Zachry.

North Texas is no stranger to loops. In Tarrant County, there is Loop 820. In the Dallas area, there’s Loop 12, LBJ Freeway and the President George Bush Turnpike.

Each was added as the Metroplex grew outward.

Not unlike an arborist determines a tree’s age by counting the rings in its trunk, a motorist can learn about a region’s traffic history by observing its highway loops.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

© 2006 Fort Worth Star-Telegram: