NTTA seeks to maintain 'Magnetar' status as toll tax collector
By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER
The Dallas Morning News
When lawmakers meet in 2011, they will be presented with a familiar roster of goals by the North Texas Tollway Authority, whose board on Wednesday approved a legislative agenda that picks up where things ended in 2009.
Chief among the NTTA's priorities will be to persuade lawmakers to keep it as the first-choice toll provider in North Texas, even as the number of local toll authorities created by counties has risen.
Just before the 2009 session, Collin County commissioners created their own county toll authority, drawing a stern rebuke from state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. But like many transportation-related provisions in the tumultuous 2009 session, legislation backed by NTTA to clarify the larger agency's relationship to a county toll authority did not survive.
Since then, the Collin County Toll Authority has begun acquiring right of way for a potential toll road. But without funding for the project, it has not yet tried to advance the road beyond initial stages.
A second county toll authority was created by Dallas County commissioners this year, though it, too, lacks the resources at present to build any new roads.
NTTA vice chairman Victor Vandergriff said NTTA seeks to persuade lawmakers to make clear that NTTA has first right of refusal for building any toll road within Dallas, Denton, Collin and Tarrant counties. But he stressed that NTTA will not challenge the existence of the local toll authorities.
"This does not affect a county's right or a city's right to put their own authority together," Vandergriff said.
The legislation will be important if North Texas is to retain its regional approach to toll roads, which is embodied in the NTTA's four-county makeup, he said.
NTTA also will again ask lawmakers to change the rules governing conflict of interest for NTTA board members. Currently, those rules flow from the 1953 statute that created NTTA, and attorneys for the authority said the rules are too imprecise. If adopted, the new approach would subject NTTA directors to the same rules as government officials of other local entities, such as cities, counties and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.
Another sought-after change would amend the Texas Public Information Act to allow NTTA to keep secret draft "working papers" associated with audits of the authority. Final reports would be public.
And the board decided to postpone until June a discussion about extending the contract of executive director Allen Clemson. Spokeswoman Sherita Coffelt said board members wanted more time to review the proposed terms.
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