— To the editor
The story on the front page of the Herald-Banner, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, about widening State Highway 66 from two lanes to four or six lanes through Rockwall County is another example of why we must get involved with our elected officials concerning local decisions.
The SH 66 project that is already on TXDOT’s books will not be affected by a potential non-compete agreement with Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC). Non-compete clauses prohibit or penalize the state for expanding free roads surrounding toll projects.
It’s a way to keep free routes congested and guarantee profits for the toll road operators at the expense of the traveling public. TTC has indicated that they will require a non-compete agreement with TXDOT for the Blackland Turnpike (proposed toll road west of Greenville to Lavon).
If that non-compete agreement is signed, SH 66 will not be widened or improved through Hunt County for the length of the non-compete agreement, which is typically 30-50 years.
The negative impacts of the proposed Blackland Turnpike will be felt by virtually every citizen of Hunt County, not just the relative few who will lose private property to TTC.
In order for the toll road to be built by TTC, TXDOT will very likely be required to sign a non-compete agreement, meaning there can be no improvements to taxpayer-funded roads in the area for 30-50 years.
That means I-30, Hwy. 380, Hwy. 78, SH 66, FM 6, and other area roads cannot be widened or improved. It also means there can be no bridges built or widened over Lake Ray Hubbard and possibly Lake Lavon. Neil Barker of TTC admitted this fact at Jay Atkins’ Precinct 2 Town Hall meeting in Caddo Mills last month.
Not only will I-30 not receive any improvements, the speed limit on I-30 may be lowered to 55 mph to “encourage” use of the toll road. This has already happened near San Antonio with SH 183. The speed limit on 183 was 65 mph until foreign-owned Cintra opened SH 130, a toll road. The toll road was not traveled enough for Cintra to make a profit, so TXDOT lowered the speed limit on SH 183 from 65 to 55 mph.
Another “selling” point that Neil Barker quotes to support building his private toll road is that I-30 is the most congested road in Texas. This statement is not true. TXDOT maintains a list of the top 100 congested roads in Texas and I-30 from Greenville to west of 190 (George Bush Turnpike) isn’t even on the list. I-30 doesn’t make the top 15 of that list even in the heart of the metroplex.
TTC is promoting the Blackland Turnpike by claiming that it will be built on the existing NETEX-abandoned railroad right-of-way, but the fact is their lease with NETEX is for only 50 feet of the 100-foot NETEX right-of-way.
They need 250 to 300 feet for a four lane divided highway. TTC also states that the toll road must have a “free” portion of the road running from west to east through Greenville in order to have a direct connection to I-30. Downtown Greenville would be divided from the rest of town by this highway, and the highway would allow very limited access as it blows through Greenville on its way west.
Supporters of the toll road and the “required” free road through Greenville have stated that this is progress, but I fail to see how this is progressive for Greenville. By putting a limited access road, that bisects Greenville from east to west, just south of downtown, the downtown merchants will be bypassed as well as all the restaurants, hotels and businesses on I-30 through Greenville.
If you own property in the direct path of this “free” road, you will probably be paid “Fair Market Value” (tax appraisal) for a small portion of your property. If your property is near the road and devalued because of road noise and inaccessibility you will receive no more than “Sorry, too bad about your luck.”
The TTC will continue to make a profit that will be shared with NETEX, but not landowners or other taxpayers. Simply by TTC and NETEX making this lease/revenue sharing deal and proposing a road, property values along the Blackland Turnpike Corridor are in decline because of real estate disclosure laws.
The stated objective of NETEX in all of this is to ultimately have commuter/cargo rail service in the remaining 50 feet of right of way that isn’t leased to TTC. I’m no transportation visionary, but it seems less likely that somebody would take a train to the George Bush Turnpike in Garland if there is a new highway to drive on. Why not provide commuter/cargo rail first? With rail reestablished and cargo diverted off I-30, there may never be a need for a privately-owned toll road and no additional right of way is required.
Why not investigate adding lanes to I-30, SH 66, SH 78, FM 6 and Hwy. 380? There are enough roads covering these paths, with existing right of way, to carry the future traffic for this area. We are paying enough taxes to maintain and improve these roads with no tolls if we, the citizens, demand our elected officials use our transportation tax dollars for their intended purposes.
Currently, there is enough right of way on I-30 to add one lane in each direction by doing little more than repainting lane stripes. Widening I-30 by just one lane in each direction will increase the capacity through Greenville by 50 percent, just for the price of a few gallons of reflective paint and there will still be plenty of room for future expansion in the existing right of way.
No one loses private property with this plan. If congestion in the future is a problem in Rockwall, Collin, or Dallas counties, those counties can sell out their residents to a for-profit toll road operator.
If we, the people of Greenville and Hunt County allow this for-profit toll road through our community, who knows where the next private toll road will be built; it could be in your backyard.
It is time we demand that TXDOT get back in the road building business, and that the state legislature and federal government stop redirecting gasoline tax dollars and other transportation tax dollars. Those taxes were created and approved for transportation costs only, and have been diverted to cover other costs, such as $2.3 billion for seven different state agencies’ employee benefits and Department of Insurance programs.
Over half a billion dollars is currently diverted to fund the state employee retirement system alone. If we pay both gas and vehicle taxes and tolls to drive on our roads, we are being taxed double, and in the case of private toll roads our taxes go to corporate profit, not continued maintenance and improvement of our public roads.
Eminent domain will probably be used to build both the private toll road and the free road through Greenville. Eminent domain is to be used for the greater public good, not for the profits of a private corporation; and we, the citizens, need to demand that this remain the litmus test for taking someone’s home and/or land.
Go to www.texasturf.org for more detailed information about abuses such as redirection/misdirection of gasoline tax funds, redirection of TXDOT transportation funds, and the dangers of using eminent domain for private corporate gain.
Go to www.notollroad.org for more information about the Blackland Turnpike and what you can do to help.
Everyone concerned about the continued theft by redirection of Texas transportation funds should contact their state representatives, Sen. Bob Deuell, and Rep. Dan Flynn, as well as local city and county officials.
D.J. Mead, Greenville