By BRAD KELLAR
The parking lot and cafeteria at Phyllis NeSmith Elementary School in Lavon were filled Thursday night, as representatives from the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) announced the start of a transportation study of the area between Lavon and Greenville.
While the region has been designated by a private firm as a location to potentially build a toll road, to help ease traffic congestion in the future, NCTCOG officials on hand for the meeting told the crowd they had instructed Public Werks to “take a step back”, and let the agency at least begin its study to see if a toll road would be needed along the corridor.
Michael Morris, the NCTCOG Director of Transportation, expressed skepticism that the company could indeed build the project as promised along a portion of the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX) right-of-way.
“I’m scratching my head wondering why would you ever put it on a freight line railroad track,” Morris said.
Residents who live along the proposed toll road corridor told the officials they were opposed to the project.
John Holt of Josephine said he was happy the Council of Governments told Public Werks to pause while the transportation study gets started. Holt said a toll road as proposed would do nothing to help Josephine, Nevada or Caddo Mills, which lie along the path of the roadway.
“I’ve not seen anything in any information ... that this is going to help the small communities,” Holt said. “I think this would totally gut the small communities.”
Deidre Mead of Greenville was worried about the environmental damage which could be associated with a separate proposal to extend the road through the city.
“That could be so detrimental to Greenville,” Mead said.
Morris began the meeting by explaining the session was being held to address a wealth of misinformation concerning the toll road project, “and kick off a process to determine if infrastructure projects are needed and what type and where they should go.”
Morris said as of now there are no projects included under the agency’s transportation plan for the region.
“It includes a do nothing option,” Morris said, should the upcoming study indicate there was no agreement on a project. “If we cannot get a consensus on how we are to proceed, then we will probably not build in this region.”
However, the NCTCOG has performed previous studies which indicate that traffic congestion is growing in the area between Lake Ray Hubbard and Lake Lavon. Studies also predicted commuter traffic between the area and Greenville is expected to increase over the next 25 years or so, given that multiple industrial projects are expected to get underway, including the Walton Development just west of Greenville.
Information from the earlier studies will be used in compiling the upcoming transportation study, although Morris stressed there was no recommendation to build a toll road as a solution.
“We’re going to use multiple options,” Morris said. “We don’t even know what the problems are yet.”
Morris and Chad McKeown, who is the project manager on the upcoming study, said there are already several proposals for other roads and transportation projects which have been offered and the study will have to take those into consideration as well.
McKeown said the study, which is expected to take until late 2014 to complete, will eventually turn to Public Werks, if it shows a toll road project is needed.
“We believe it will be something within the next six to nine months,” McKeown said.
Morris also said the Public Werks project would not move forward if it is not included under the NCTCOG transportation plan for the region, even if the company has the funding it needs to proceed.
“The financial tail cannot wag the transportation dog,” Morris said. “That’s the risk they are taking.”
The meeting was taped, with the presentation and additional information to be added to a web site developed to track the study and invite public involvement at www.nctcog.org/blacklands.