Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"I seriously feel like all of our cooperative efforts ... are now resulting in a stab in the back."

DFW Leaders Fuming Over Lack Of I-35 TxDOT Funding


Jack Fink
CBS 11 News (Dallas /Fort Worth)
Copyright 2009

LEWISVILLE-- There are some things that are just out of your control. We all pay a tax every time we fill up our gas tanks. Part of that tax is supposed to help improve existing North Texas roads and build new ones.

Perhaps no road in North Texas could use more help than Interstate-35 -- particularly in Tarrant and Denton counties.

While the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has earmarked an impressive chunk of change for an I-35 widening project, there's one small problem – the section of I-35 is in Waco. The North Texas sections of the interstate aren't getting a dime for expansion.

Every morning, April Perez can plan on sitting in traffic on I-35E in Lewisville for at least 20 minutes. "It's horrible," she said. "It's the only way to get to work. It'd be nice if we had some relief."

Under a new plan by TxDOT, there's no relief in sight for Perez or the hundreds of thousands of other commuters along I-35E in Denton County or I-35W in Tarrant County.

TxDOT is proposing to spend $1 billion to build new lanes on I-35 in the Waco area. The new construction would run from Hillsboro to the Killeen area. "We could use that here in the DFW area," said Perez.

The Dallas/Fort Worth area is only getting one-tenth of the amount the Waco area is from the state's general fund. The fund consists mostly of sales taxes. The money earmarked for North Texas isn't for new expansion, but mostly for repairs.

The Waco widening project has some DFW leaders fuming. "As a region, we're being punished. We're being punished because we went along with TxDOT's recommendations and plans and what they told us to do," explained Senator Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

The TxDOT plan called for more toll roads. Just about every new or newly expanded highway in our area is either a toll road or will have some toll lanes built next to free ones.

In return for agreeing with the plan, the state promised to give priority to future North Texas roads.

Now area leaders accuse TxDOT of going back on its word. "I seriously feel like all of our cooperative efforts and innovative thinking is now resulting in a stab in the back," Denton County Judge Mary Horn said with frustration. "And I'm not very happy about it."

TxDOT is spending most of its general fund money in Waco even though the area has much less traffic than North Texas. The average daily traffic on I-35E from Denton down to Lewisville is 126,000 vehicles. On I-35W from Fort Worth down to Burleson, the average daily traffic is 120,000 vehicles.

Comparatively, on I-35 in Hillsboro to Waco the average daily traffic is about 60,000 – less than half of either section in North Texas.

TxDOT officials say they have to look at the interests of the entire state. "We have to move goods and people from here to there in lots of cases and we can't neglect that area," TxDOT spokesman Mark Pettit said, speaking of the Waco area.

That logic doesn't sit well with April Perez. "They need to get out with the other working people at 8 a.m. and sit in traffic with the rest of us and see what needs to be done."

TxDOT says the legislature developed the criteria to decide which projects would be eligible for the general fund revenues. And TXDOT says I-35E in Denton County wouldn't be eligible because the expansion plans for that part of the highway include some toll lanes. TxDOT says projects with toll lanes aren't eligible.

There is no money at all to expand I-35W in Fort Worth.

The Texas Transportation Commission, appointed by Governor Rick Perry, will be voting on TxDOT's controversial plan next week.

© 2009 CBS TV: www.cbs11tv.com

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