DALLAS (CBS11) – Funding is up in the air for some crucial highway expansion projects in North Texas and across the state.
Controversy erupted after critics complained that the Texas Department of Transportation planned to continue using toll lanes even after voters passed a statewide referendum to avoid that.
Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick stepped in late last week after the complaints, and told TxDOT to revise its plans.
Terri Hall was among those who blew the whistle on the state’s plan to use some toll lanes to expand LBJ East from Central Expressway to I-30 in Dallas and 14 other highway projects statewide. “It would literally flood our highways with more of these toll taxes.”
She points to the Constitutional amendment Texas voters approved in 2015 giving TxDOT access to billions of sales tax dollars to spend on highway projects.
Hall founded the group TURF, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, and has pushed state leaders to stop incorporating tolls into highway expansion projects. “It was very clear in our Constitutional statues that this was supposed to end our reliance on toll roads. It was supposed to give us relief from toll roads, not allow them to do accounting gimmicks.”
Under TxDOT’s plan, the agency would have spent the extra sales tax funds approved by voters, on the non-tolled lanes in the highway projects and spent federal and state gas tax money to build the tolled lanes.
Hall, the Governor, Lt. Governor, and others opposed that.
In a letter to the Chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, J. Bruce Bugg, Jr., Patrick said, “Texas is spending record amounts on transportation. TxDOT’s proposal to add managed toll lanes is simply not consistent with the policies set forth by the legislature.”
Cedar Hill Mayor Rob Franke is the Chairman of the Regional Transportation Council a group of locally elected leaders in North Texas who work with TxDOT to determine which highway projects get built and how they’re funded.
He says, “There’s plenty of groups that don’t want managed lanes. They don’t want to ever use the toll word. It’s a four letter word.”
In addition to the funding of the LBJ East project being up in the air, there are questions about the financing of four other projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in which TxDOT planned to use toll lanes.
They include Interstate 35E near downtown Dallas (Lower Stemmons), Interstate 30 in the Canyon in downtown Dallas, and phase two of Interstate 35E from LBJ north to Corinth, which will double the number of toll lanes from two to four and add a number of non-toll lanes as well.
Another project is in Tarrant County and in the planning stages.
TxDOT Spokesman Val Lopez says it may include Interstate 30 from U.S. 287 in downtown Fort Worth to Fielder Road in Arlington.
Franke says without tolled lanes there’s not enough money to finish the projects. “If the state can come up with the financing for that, I think it’s a win-win situation. I just haven’t seen where the money comes from.”
Critics like Terri Hall say they’ve heard it all before.
She says TxDOT needs to rework its transportation program. “They’ve always been very clever at spending the money they do have on all the low priority projects so they can come back and say, oops, there’s not enough money for those big projects in the Metroplex, so you’re going to have to pay extra, you’re going to have to pay tolls to get to work.”
The Texas Transportation Commission is set to discuss the issue December 14.
Franke says regardless, the RTC will find ways to get the highway projects built.
Here is the complete list of projects.