Congressmen continue to misrepresent facts in their push for toll roads; Fort Worth newspaper gives them an EZ Pass.
By GORDON DICKSON
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
FORT WORTH -- Texas officials are doing the right thing by building toll roads to relieve congestion because federal funding can't keep up with growth, a leading member of Congress said Monday.
U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., also said that metropolitan areas that refuse to seek out road funding alternatives -- such as tolls -- won't be able to build new projects for the foreseeable future. The cost of building highways far outpaces inflation, and cars and trucks are getting better mileage,
"In eight to 15 years, you'll probably have cars fueled by something other than gasoline, which will be good for the environment," Mica said during a luncheon at Texas Motor Speedway.
"We need to transition from the gas tax," Mica said, adding that Congress' priority is to organize its transportation agenda by 2009, before federal transportation funding expires and the next funding bill is put together.
"No one knows what the interstates will look like in 25 to 30 years from now. No one knows what federal participation will be there to assist you. We lack priorities. Hopefully, we will get together and come up with a plan by September 2009."
About 200 people attended Burgess' summit. Burgess, whose district includes the speedway and a chunk of the Interstate 35W corridor in north Fort Worth, likes to get together annually with federal, state and local transportation officials to make sure they're talking with one another.
"We all need to be pulling in the same direction," Burgess said.
Lately in North Texas, that's been a bit of a tall order. Two state agencies, the Texas Department of Transportation and North Texas Tollway Authority, are in the midst of tense negotiations over who should build Texas 161, a toll road and reliever route for Texas 360 in Arlington.
Officials from the Transportation Department and tollway authority attended the summit and said they were working on a solution for Texas 161, which is expected to be a crucial road for moving 2011 Super Bowl traffic.
The tollway authority recently agreed to pay the region about $3.3 billion up front -- money that North Texas officials can use on other transportation projects -- for the right to collect tolls for 50 years on Texas 121 north of Grapevine.
Transportation Department officials have privately worried about whether the tollway authority overpaid for the Texas 121 project.
But Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who supports the tollway authority's role as the primary toll road building agency in the Metroplex, said he isn't worried about the tollway authority running out of money.
"When the decision about 121 was made, everybody had good projections on the table," Whitley said during a break at the summit. "I don't think the 161 payment will be near what the tollway authority paid for 121."
Funding new projects
The Transportation Department is depending on proceeds from Texas 161, which will run parallel to Texas 360 in Irving and Grand Prairie, to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars for other Dallas-area projects, Dallas district engineer Bill Hale said in a presentation. A smaller pot of funds from Texas 161 will go to Tarrant County, but the main benefit for the western Metroplex will be traffic relief.
Mica avoided chiming in on the Texas 161 discussion. He described the federal government's main role in transportation as providing a vision for states to follow -- a vision that takes into account the ability to evacuate, respond to emergencies and move goods.
He said the federal government also can help speed up projects. For example, he noted that the I-35W bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis earlier this year is expected to be rebuilt in 437 days, whereas a project that size normally takes seven to eight years.
"There's no reason we can't do the same thing on other projects -- speed them up -- as long as they have no significant environmental impact," he said. North Texas toll roads
-- President George Bush Turnpike
-- Dallas/Fort Worth International Parkway
-- Dallas North Tollway
-- Texas 121 north of Grapevine (completed in Lewisville, Carrollton and Coppell)
-- Southwest Parkway, aka Texas 121 T, Fort Worth — construction scheduled in 2008
-- Texas 121 north of Grapevine (Denton and Collin County)
-- Toll lanes, Texas 114/121 Grapevine funnel
-- Toll lanes, Airport Freeway, Loop 820, I-35W North Tarrant Express
-- Southwest Parkway, aka Texas 121 T, southwest Fort Worth to Cleburne
-- Texas 360, Mansfield
-- Texas 170, near Alliance Airport
-- Toll lanes, LBJ Freeway, Dallas
-- Texas 161
Where: The 11-mile-long toll road would connect Texas 183 in Irving to Interstate 20 in Grand Prairie, parallel to Texas 360 in Arlington.
When: Frontage roads from I-20 to I-30 are under construction, but the construction of lanes between Texas 183 and I-30 are considered crucial to moving traffic in and out of the Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington. Texas 161 is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2011 Super Bowl.
Value: Texas 161 would generate about $1.2 billion for other transportation projects beginning in 2008, after construction and other costs are paid for, according to Texas Department of Transportation projections unveiled Monday.
Gordon Dickson, 817-685-3816
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