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Election day is only one day away and the candidates are busy slinging barbs at each other as to who stood where, who gave to who's campaign and who spent money on campaign consultants.
Meanwhile real issues, involving real people are little debated or even discussed.
I haven't seen any substantial discussion of the Collin County Toll Road Authority and the county's Outer Loop.
It was in May of 2008, when the commissioners court met at Murphy City Hall in a meeting that was supposed to "take the court on the road", but which instead made two decisions that had great impact on the county. In executive session that night, the court approved a law suit against their Auditor. The suit eventually cost the citizens over $350,000.
But also that night, the commissioners voted to rescind an agreement made with Denton County and the NTTA on the alignment of the future expansion of the Dallas North Tollway. The commissioners wanted the road, and its subsequent commercial development, not on the county line, but completely in Collin County. They also began to make plans to create a county toll road authority to develop the extension of the Dallas North Tollway.
A few months later, the Collin County Toll Road Authority was born. It's mission was to secure financing for the DNT extension and to finance and build what Collin County called their "Outer Loop".
The Outer Loop is a segment of a regional "Loop 9" originally conceived as the DFW bypass along the Trans Texas Corridor. This huge loop road will, when and if built, completely encircle Dallas and Fort Worth. The Collin County portion begin at the DNT on the Denton county line and would run north of McKinney before turning south to end at the Rockwall County line.
The Collin County Commissioners, facing rapid growth in their own county, were clearly frustrated with the slow pace of development of the regional loop. They decided to go it alone at a cost of $4 billion. They had no idea how to pay for such a huge project, but they hoped that the county's rapid growth would attract a public-private partnership that would finance and operate the Outer Loop for toll revenue.
They didn't count on the recession, the killing of the Trans Texas Corridor, or the fact that no one, not even the Spanish giant Cintra, was going to write a check for $4 billion to build a super highway to connect Melissa to Royce City.
Their insistence on forming their own toll authority, their attempt to hijack the DNT extension, and their perceived reluctance to work in a regional manner also frustrated those local partners whose cooperation was needed to make the road economically possible. At a State Senate hearing, Dallas' Republican Senator John Carona told Keith Self, "I don't think Collin County plays nice lately. "I don't think they have a regional concern, but only for provincial Collin County."
Denton County Judge Mary Horn scolded the commissioners with, "I think you should honor your county's agreements." Denton Commissioner Andy Eads told the press that, "I was very disappointed. Everyone represents their own jurisdiction, but we also have to wear the hat of regionalism."
The NTTA, reacting to the takeover of the DNT extension garnered support in the legislature for a bill that would have required the county to get the NTTA's permission to build any toll road in Collin County. The chairman of the NTTA board, a Collin County appointee, told the commissioners, "We're not going to make a political decision. We're going to make the right decision for the agency."
Frantic, last minute backtracking by the county allowed for a compromise where Collin County gave up any claim to the DNT, and the bill was dropped.
The commissioners, in going it alone, likely slowed any opportunity for regional cooperation with Denton and Rockwall Counties. Cooperation with both counties is critical. To make the Loop economically viable, it needs to connect more than small towns here - it needs to go west in Denton County to I-35 and South through Rockwall to I-30.
However, even though no financing of the construction of the Outer Loop is in place (nor likely to be anytime soon), the commissioners court believes that it is important to acquire the needed land for the Loop's right of way. Their reasoning is that over time, the land will become more expensive, and as vacant land fills it will be harder to plot a path across the county.
The county has the cash. $7 million was set aside for the road back in the 2007 budget. So the land acquisition plan, especially on the northern leg of the loop, has gone forward - with or without the acquiescence of local land owners.
For the last year, the county has been using its power of Eminent Domain to force the purchase of at least 7 different properties without the consent of the sellers.
In today's court session, the commissioners will vote to "lend" (against future toll revenue) the Collin County Toll Road Authority $6 million to pay for these condemned properties.
For a road that may never be built, at least not in our lifetime.
Update March 1, 2010:
The Commissioners Court agreed in today's meeting to lend their Toll Road Authority the money. The only discussion was on a suggestion by Jerry Hoagland that the county charge the CCTRA interest on the funds.
Then, meeting as the Collin County Toll Road Authority, the commissioners voted without discussion to spend the money to close the condemnation sales.
I was interested to see that the Chairman of the Texas Senate Committee on Transportation issued a not-so-veiled threat today to the CCTRA. On his blog, Senator John Carona's spokesman wrote, "The compromise language between the Collin County Toll Authority and the North Texas Tollway Authority was ultimately removed from legislation. As a result, Senator Carona is observing how the relationship progresses over the interim, and depending on that outcome, may proceed with appropriate legislation in the 82nd session."
He's telling Self and company to "play nice".
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