Private offers raised concerns about local control over road
Draft plan offered, but many issues and parties remain in play
Saturday, March 25, 2006
By TONY HARTZEL
The Dallas Morning News
ARLINGTON – State Highway 121 should become a toll road by 2010, and it should have toll rates about 20 percent higher than nearby existing toll roads when it opens, according to a draft proposal presented to regional policymakers Friday.
The proposal, which could be approved next month, is part of an overall effort to better coordinate the region's transportation agencies and funding.
"I'm trying to get to a comprehensive, system approach," said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The draft proposal would:
• Set tolls on Highway 121 at 14.5 cents per mile when it opens in 2010
• Charge motorists 17 cents per mile to drive from 6:30 to 9 a.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m.
The region's proposal contrasts with an offer from the North Texas Tollway Authority to build the Highway 121 toll road in Collin County and charge 12 cents per mile when it opens.
"We want to be team players. Our goal is to get it built in five years. But our choice is the NTTA," said Collin County Commissioner Jack Hatchell.
A group of Collin County business leaders, at a meeting Thursday, overwhelmingly supported construction of a Highway 121 toll road as soon as possible, regardless of whether it's a tollway authority project or a private project, said McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield.
The tollway authority offer came after private companies submitted proposals to pay the state to allow them to build and operate Highway 121 as a toll road.
The private offers raised concerns about how much control local officials would have over the road.
State officials have agreed to allow the region to set toll rates for a private toll road.
The tollway authority hasn't eliminated the possibility of submitting a revised proposal that would include the higher toll rates, agency Executive Director Allan Rutter said.
Members of the Regional Transportation Council, which has final say on any new policy, were briefed on the issue by the regional planning agency Friday.
The council will hold another workshop next week, and it could approve the Highway 121 policy April 13.
All projects must be approved by the council, which is made up of 40 members, most of whom belong to area city councils or commissioners courts.
If the council were to approve a policy against the wishes of local communities, it would mark the first time it has approved a transportation project against those objections, Mr. Morris said. Some local officials argued that, as gas tax rates remain static, regional leaders are forced to look closely at difficult issues.
© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co