Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"The new Legislature will probably feel free to rewrite the rulebook"

To Meet State Requirements, Grand Parkway Defined As A Toll Road Project


by Bob Dunn
Copyright 2008

In what amounts to a legal exercise to satisfy state law, Fort Bend County Commissioners Court approved a plan calling for the Grand Parkway to become a toll road.

Court members voted to adopt a resolution negotiated by the Harris County Toll Road Authority with the Texas Department of Transportation, on behalf of Fort Bend and six other counties through which the Grand Parkway passes or could someday pass.

The purpose of the vote was to approve "business terms and conditions" used to determine "the market value of potential toll road projects," according to language in the resolution adopted on Tuesday.

So for purposes of creating a market value study of the Grand Parkway, according to the resolution adopted in Fort Bend County, the roadway:
  • Will be a "controlled access road from two to six lanes with overpasses at major intersections and direct connectors at interchanges with other major thoroughfares";
  • Will be a toll road carrying a rate "that will not exceed the average per-mile toll rates...in force and effect for the Harris County toll road system as of the date of opening of any segment of the Grand Parkway..."
Increases in toll rates would be put in place using the same "escalation methodology" used in Harris County.

But whether any segments of the road - also known as State Highway 99 - actually become tolled roadways in Fort Bend County remains to be seen.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Tom Stavinoha said he thinks the resolution passed Tuesday "kind of kills Segment C" of the parkway - which had generated controversey in months past as residents in Greatwood and nearby neighborhoods worried over details of the project.

County Judge Bob Hebert indicated Tuesday that negotiations between TxDOT and the Harris County tolling authority will move very slowly.

Before they are near a conclusion, the Texas Legislature will meet, with one of its main objectives being to tackle road and infrastructure issues.

Among other things, the Legislature is expected to decide whether to allow TxDOT to fade from existence, as a sunset provision could put an end to the agency. Discussion in Austin has included the idea of a state highway department headed by a new elected official.

"The new Legislature will probably feel free to rewrite the rulebook" regarding the methods of payment and operation of road projects, Hebert said.

Precinct 4 Commissioner James Patterson said the objective of creating a business definition for the Grand Parkway project was to allow for a market valuation study as required in a recently passed Senate bill.

But changing economic conditions have caused state and local officials to look at the Grand Parkway project in a different light.

As a result, Patterson said, "the agreement to do a market study might just go away."

© 2008 FortBendNow: www.fortbendnow.com

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