Friday, August 11, 2006

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison on the TTC: "It seems to not be economically viable."

Officials agree to make corridor a loop

Aug. 11, 2006

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2006

IRVING — State officials say they’re ready to do what North Texas leaders have asked for months: convert the Trans-Texas Corridor into a new outer loop toll road around Fort Worth and Dallas.

The planned toll road would include a new east-west road spanning the southern tip of Tarrant and Dallas counties, then connect with new urban outer freeways in the Metroplex, rather than bypassing populated areas and running through rural northeast Texas.

The breakthrough in a months-long argument between state and local leaders came Friday on the final day of the annual transportation summit in Irving.

Phil Russell, director of the Texas Department of Transportation’s turnpike division, said during a lunchtime speech that he would ask the Federal Highway Administration to redraw the Trans-Texas study area in the next month or so to include the outer loop. The federal agency is the lead in an ongoing study to build the North Texas-to-San Antonio toll road and must be consulted before the project’s scope can be changed.

“I think we’re going to work it out,” Russell said before the speech.

Russell congratulated the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the official planning body for Dallas-Fort Worth, for coming up with a workable alternative for Trans-Texas.

The announcement came a few minutes after about a dozen local elected leaders, mostly from the eastern Metroplex, held a news conference demanding that the Transportation Department immediately bend to local desires.

“If we find a different route has been chosen than this one, we’re going to go to the state Legislature and fight,” Dallas Councilman Bill Blaydes said during the news conference at the Westin Dallas Fort Worth Airport, where the summit was held. “This is one final plea.”

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, also a summit speaker, said the Trans-Texas project was flawed because it pitted state government against local governments.

“I’m concerned with several aspects of the Trans-Texas Corridor,” she said. “No. 1, I’m very concerned about a big toll road going from South Texas and taking farmers’ land by eminent domain. To that extent, it seems to me to not be economically viable. I think they should also take into consideration the local issues that have been raised. In the early stages, it doesn’t appear they gave consideration to the local impact.”

Some other Metroplex leaders were more cautious, saying they believed they were close to smoothing things over with the Transportation Department and didn’t want to be overly critical.

Tarrant County Commissioner Glen Whitley noted that dozens of Metroplex leaders attended public hearings this summer and offered to throw their political support behind Trans-Texas as long as it was moved closer to the Metroplex.

“The last couple of weeks, there’s been a lot of comments from leaders in this area endorsing this plan,” Whitley said. “Recent conversations lead me to believe that TxDOT is going to listen to those comments.”

Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816

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