The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

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January 28, 2013

Toll road representatives answer questions after meeting

GREENVILLE — Tensions ran high in the Caddo Mills Office/Barn after Precinct 2 Hunt County Commissioner Jay Atkins’ regularly scheduled town hall meeting.

Atkins allowed two representatives from the Texas Turnpike Corporation, Neil Barker and Steve McCullough, to speak to the crowd of more than 150 about the controversial toll road.

The court recently passed a resolution supporting the road with a 3-1 vote, with Atkins being the dissenting vote.

“This is going to cut a huge scar through the middle of my precinct,” Atkins said during the Jan. 22 meeting, adding that nine county roads in his district will be directly affected by the road. “Most of those county roads will be dead end roads.”

Phase 1 of the project would be an approximately 24 mile privately owned and built toll road along the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX) right-of-way between Greenville and Lavon in Collin County.

According to Barker, a lot of information being sent out about the proposed road is untrue.

“I think there has been a lot of misinformation about the project,” Barker said. “Which leads to fear.”

Barker said one of the misconceptions was that the road has been in planning for years. He denied that and described how he first came up with the idea.

“In December of 2011, I was in Sulphur Springs with family talking about the Cotton Belt right-of-way,” he said. “I thought a toll road would be useful and I don’t want my taxes to be raised to have the $2 billion to improve Interstate 30.”

Barker and McCullough fielded questions and concerns from the citizens on where and when the road will be built, and if the project has any investors in it so far.

“There is no funding currently,” Barker said. “We don’t know where the route will go just yet.”

According to Barker, citizens will be able to know sometime in August or September where the three proposed routes for the road will be.

One citizen however, did not have a question, only a statement.

“I want you to look me in the eyes,” Michael Sharpe, a Hunt County resident said. “I’m going to do everything I can to screw you up and try to get this thing trashed.”

Although Atkins did not vote for the road and has openly voiced his opposition to the road, he recognized that Hunt County is growing at an accelerated rate.

“There is little doubt that the population is going to increase tenfold over the next 20 years,” he said.

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