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January 23, 2013

County votes to support proposed toll road

GREENVILLE — The Hunt County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to approve a non-binding resolution of support for a potential toll road which is proposed to be built between Greenville and Lavon.

The 3-1 vote came following more than two hours of discussion and debate on the issue, with Precinct 2 Commissioner Jay Atkins voting against.

“This is going to cut a huge scar through the middle of my precinct,” Atkins said.

Many of those who spoke out during Tuesday’s meeting agreed with Atkins, although there were several people who said they were in favor of the idea.

Sally Bird, President and CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce Convention and Visitors Bureau said the Chamber’s Board voted unanimously to recommend the commissioners back the proposal.

And County Judge John Horn noted that there are no definitive plans in place for the project so far.

“I don’t know of anything that is etched in stone,” Horn said. “The hurdles this company is facing ... are monumental to say the least.”

Regardless, the idea of the toll road did not sit well with most of the overflow crowd. Many argued that they had moved away from the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex to the area between Caddo Mills and the Clinton community to live in the country, while others feared losing homes which had been in their family for generations.

“There’s a lot of people here that you are really ruining their lives,” said Robert Bird, who wondered what would be the next step in the process. “It is just greed and it is not worrying about your fellow citizens. I hope to hell you take my house, because I am not living next to it.”

The proposal from the Texas Turnpike Corporation also includes a plan to build a new, non-toll road from west to east across North Greenville and connecting with Interstate 30.

Phase 1 of the project would be a privately owned and built toll road covering approximately 24 miles between just west of Greenville and Lavon in Collin County, along a portion of the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX) right-of-way.

The right-of-way has been secured through a long term ground lease agreement between the Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC) and NETEX through the cities of Josephine and Nevada, to just west of State Highway 278 in Lavon.

The TTC is proposing to build a limited access four lane divided toll road in and along the right-of-way, leaving room for NETEX’s rail restoration plan in the future, in order to help relieve congestion along Interstate 30 between Rockwall County and Dallas County.

Phase 2 of the project, between State Highway 78 and the President George Bush Turnpike will be planned and constructed in the future.

“I’ve got numerous issues with this,” Atkins said, adding he had received 500 calls from his constituents who were opposed to the road, compared to just three in favor. “I’ve got to look at what that is going to do to the people that pay my salary. I represent Precinct 2 first, Hunt County second.”

For one thing, Atkins said the route would bisect nine county roads in his precinct.

“I cannot expect you are going to give me nine overpasses over my county roads,” Atkins said. “Most of those county roads will be dead end roads.”

Atkins believed the road would benefit Greenville and Lavon directly, but do little for the rest of the county, aside from maybe Josephine and Nevada, which is where he grew up.

“Most of the folks there are opposed to this,” Atkins said.

He noted how the company’s lease with NETEX specifies that construction would begin by 2016, or the lease would be voided.

“It sounds to me like the trucks are loaded,” Atkins said. “I just don’t believe that this is the right thing for us.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Phillip Martin noted that the Texas Department of Transportation has no plans to do any expansions along Interstate 30 through 2020 and that, even if the agency did have the desire to do so, it has no money.

“That’s what all this is about, trying to plan,” Martin said.

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