Thursday, March 5, 2009

Massive Grapevine highway project could begin this year

By NICHOLAS SAKELARIS and GORDON DICKSON - The Grapevine Courier / Star-Telegram - March 4, 2009
GRAPEVINE — The massive reconstruction of seven Grapevine highways — a $1 billion-plus project known as the DFW Connector — will change the appearance of the city.

And it will change the way motorists from other cities, and Grapevine residents themselves, get around.

Capacity on highways such as Texas 114/121 will double, with the addition of toll and nontoll lanes, making it possible for the first time in decades to drive through the once-sleepy farm town without encountering gridlock.

Gone will be the hair-pulling waits at traffic signals along William D. Tate Avenue, one of the main drags leading to the city’s "restaurant row."

"We don’t go into Grapevine in certain parts of the day because of the traffic. You can’t get around," said Michele Hoffman, who lives in the south part of the city. She supports the project, which may be managed by private developers.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which plans to supplement the long-delayed project with $250 million in federal stimulus money, is expected to select a best value among the bidders this month.

But the progress will come at a cost for area property owners. Part or all of about 16 Grapevine and Southlake businesses could be removed, including the 80-room Fairfield Inn on Texas 121, according to environmental documents provided by the Transportation Department.

The plans show that up to 10 of those businesses could be bulldozed.

Even more businesses will lose parking spaces, including Sam’s Club, Baylor Regional Medical Center, Academy Sports and Classic Chevrolet, officials said.

Classic Chevrolet will lose 173 parking spaces to make way for a flyover ramp, which will allow motorists on eastbound Texas 114 in Southlake to merge onto southbound Texas 121 and head into Euless or southbound on Texas 360 en route to Arlington without stopping.

New landmarks

Some people believe that the dominant structure in Grapevine is the historic B&D Mills, visible for many miles. Others say it’s the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center. Soon, these arguments will be moot.

The DFW Connector will be 16 miles long, with four decks of ramps and overpasses, and at its peak, near the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport north entrance, the structure will rival the five-deck Interstate 30/Interstate 35W interchange, also known as the Fort Worth Mixmaster, in stature.

The Texas 114/International Parkway interchange north of D/FW Airport will have four layers, similar to the 120-foot-tall High Five at Interstate 635 and U.S. 75 in north Dallas.

Construction could begin this year if the plan gets environmental clearance from the Federal Highway Administration, as expected. The Texas Department of Transportation is reviewing three proposals from developers for design and construction. The cost of the project is estimated at $907 million on federal environmental documents, although state officials predict the cost will top $1 billion.

Hundreds of area residents, city officials and elected officials attended a public hearing last week at the Grapevine Convention Center to learn more about the project. It was the last public meeting required in the environmental study phase.

Land lost

The DFW Connector will widen and improve interchanges for Texas 121, Texas 114, Texas 360, I-635 and surrounding arterial streets. The project will take five years to complete.

The Transportation Department estimates that it will need about 192 acres of right-of-way for the project; it could begin acquisition as soon as this summer.

Hagen Durant, general manager of Classic Chevrolet, said he has been anticipating this for several years. His company will probably have to relocate part of the business to another site to make way for the flyover ramp, which will pass right over the dealership.

Another direct connection from Texas 121 and Texas 360 west to Texas 114 will also have a large flyover ramp near Carrabba’s in Grapevine, at a loss of 11 parking spaces for the restaurant.

In Southlake, the big changes include realignment of the Southlake Boulevard and Gateway Drive bridges. A new flyover ramp will let motorists exit Texas 114 directly onto Southlake Boulevard.

To do that, however, Calico Corners, an interior design store at the corner of Southlake Boulevard and Texas 114, will be displaced.

At its widest point north of Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Texas 121/114 will have up to 24 lanes, including main lanes, toll lanes and access roads. The westbound main lanes will be seven-wide at one point.

Drivers who intend to travel on Texas 114 straight to Irving will have the option of using managed toll lanes that will be similar to the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on some Dallas highways.

The sheer size of the project is a little scary for Grapevine Mayor William D. Tate.

"We assume we’ll be able to learn how to leave town and find our way back home once it’s built," Tate joked.

Public comments

The public can submit written comments on the proposed project until Friday. They can be mailed to:

Maribel P. Chavez, P.E.

Texas Department of Transportation

P.O. Box 6868

Fort Worth, TX 76115
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Groups hit Texas Capitol to oppose spending stimulus money on toll roads

By DAVE MONTGOMERY - Fort Worth Star Telegram - March 4, 2009
AUSTIN — Beverly Branham’s message to lawmakers was neatly summarized in the four-word placard on her bright red hat: "No Stimulus Toll Road."

The Fort Worth grandmother and scores of like-minded Texans fanned out across the state Capitol on Tuesday, demanding that legislators spend not one penny of federal stimulus money to finance toll roads.

"It’s double taxes," Branham said, "and we’re already tax slaves."

The daylong lobbying mission was organized by several transportation watchdog groups, which contend that using federal stimulus money for toll roads essentially represents a double whammy on their pocketbooks: First, through the federal taxes that finance the huge stimulus package, and second, through the fees they will have to pay at the tollbooth.

"Taxpayers should not have to pay for the roads through repayment of stimulus funds and pay tolls to use the highways," according to a statement from the Arlington-based DFW Regional Concerned Citizens.

Branham and Nina Spears, also of Fort Worth, drove to Austin together. They said they are also concerned about foreign companies’ involvement in toll-road projects and the development of a "NAFTA highway" to funnel international shipping through Texas. The groups outlined their priorities in a midmorning news conference and through visits with lawmakers.

"If anybody grins at us, we walk up and talk to them," Branham said.

The groups also demanded that lawmakers clamp down on the Texas Department of Transportation and scrap any vestiges of Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor, which originally called for a $184 billion network of toll roads.

"TxDOT needs to pull back its horns a little bit," said Jimmy Simmons of Waxahachie, a retired engineer at the General Motors plant in Arlington.

Asked whether he thought lawmakers should ban the use of stimulus money for toll roads, Branham responded: "I wish we wouldn’t take any."

Many of the protesters oppose toll roads in general.

"Generation after generation is going to be paying for these roads," said Bruce Burton of Austin. A woman nearby clutched a sign reading, "Texans Against Tolls."
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Toll foes, environmentalists urge brakes on stimulus spending for highways

By Peggy Fikac - Houston Chronicle - March 03, 2009

Toll road opponents and environmentalists today said they want to put the brakes on the Texas Transportation Commission's plans to allocate $1.2 billion in stimulus funds for highway projects Thursday.

They're particularly conccerned about toll projects, which make up $700 million of the total.

"How many times do we have to pay to drive the same stretch of road?" asked Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom.

One focus of criticism was the Grand Parkway project in Harris County, which one protester's sign dubbed the "Grand Porkway."

Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Lippincott gave the quickest possible "no" when asked whether it's possible that the commission would put off Thursday's vote. The commission had already delayed action from last week after some legislative concern surfaced about the speed with which the agency is acting on stimulus funds.

Lippincott emphasized, as he has before, that the list was developed in coordination with local transportation officials. He said none of the projects is new, and that the commission had been clear that it wanted to spend stimulus money on projects that pooled resources, including revenue from tolls.

He also said that paying a toll is no different from paying to get into a high school football game at a stadium built with tax money.

While the protesters were at the Texas Capitol, Lippincott said, President Obama was making the case at the U.S. Department of Transportation that stimulus money should be spent "immediately and responsibly to keep our economy and our people moving."

The commission last week voted to approve $505 million in maintenance projects for roads and bridges, leaving $1.2 billion in stimulus funds under its purview to be allocated Thursday.
Read more in the Houston Chronicle

Monday, March 2, 2009

Join us for a Grassroots Tax Revolt on Lobby Day March 3!

Tell your lawmakers face to face that we want our freeways fixed and to keep them FREE of additional toll taxes!
Lobby Day to Stop Toll Roads & the TTC
Tuesday, March 3
Meet at the South Capitol entrance at 9 AM

DFW carpool location announced!

We plan to have our group introduced from the House floor sometime between 10 & 10:30 AM, then you can spend time with your legislators to voice your concerns, do lunch at the Capitol Grill, and hear from some of our "Good Guy" legislators between 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM before heading home.

If you or your group are interested in carpooling, please let us know meeting times and locations so we can publicize it!
It's clear the Legislature is waffling on being tough on TxDOT and bringing much needed resolution on toll road policies and the Trans Texas Corridor. From wanting to raid public employee retirement funds to finance risky, leveraged toll projects, and to hand over our highway system to foreign toll operators, to allowing the conversion of existing freeways into tollways and looking the other way when our wreckless highway department engages in lobbying with taxpayer money, TEXANS must STAND-UP and demand that these irresponsible practices come to an END! We'll have t-shirts for folks to wear (suggested donation $10) so we can communicate our message around the Capitol.

Carpool info
DFW carpool location - David Smith, Coordinator - If you would like to carpool or are in need of a ride, call or email me ASAP as I will either be leaving Monday evening or Tuesday morning early, depending on those coming with me. Plan on meeting at the Corner Market at Lover's Lane and Greenville Avenue where you can leave your cars. Park at your own risk, but it is a well-traveled intersection and a nice area.
Email: or Cell # 940-595-185

San Antonio carpool location:
Park Hills Baptist Church parking lot at 7:00 AM (just inside Loop 1604 on west side of 281). Sudie Sartor, Coordinator - (210) 488-5412

ACTION ALERT! Email the Transportation Commission in time for their meeting March 5

email Texas Transportation Commission
Send them this simple message...
No stimulus money for toll roads.
It's a DOUBLE TAX rip-off!

$700 million eyed for toll projects
Grand Parkway's among 21 Texas roadways where money will be spent
By ROSANNA RUIZ - Copyright 2009 Houston Chronicle - Feb. 27, 2009

The Texas Department of Transportation has set aside more than $700 million in economic stimulus funds for toll road projects across the state, sparking criticism and questions about whether the pay-to-drive roads are an appropriate use of the federal dollars.

The toll roads — including the Grand Parkway in Harris County — are among 21 major projects up for a vote at next week’s meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission in Austin. The commission had planned to vote on the list this week but delayed its consideration a week after at least one state legislator complained the money was being spent without enough input.

The delay has given opponents an opportunity to organize a lobbying effort aimed at persuading state leaders to withhold stimulus money from toll road projects.

“It’s a total rip-off,” said Terri Hall, director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, a nonprofit opposed to toll roads. “That’s not how the money is supposed to be used.”

TxDOT leaders and transportation planners defend the projects, saying all of them, including the toll roads, are important to their regions and offer tangible economic and mobility benefits.

“I think it’s unfortunate that the discussion about these funds has eclipsed the broader discussion about the state’s transportation needs,” TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said.

The discussion should be on reducing gridlock now, said R
ep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, whose criticism led the commission to postpone its vote. Toll roads should be built later with state money, not onetime federal stimulus funds,
he said.

The Legislature continues to vote for toll moratoriums,” he said, “and TxDOT keeps ignoring us.

More fees for drivers

U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also questioned the use of stimulus funds on toll roads.

“It concerns me that state officials would prioritize toll projects that will hit already hard-pressed Texas drivers with additional fees,” he said in an e-mailed statement. “I would like to see stimulus dollars fund projects that ease not only congestion, but an over-taxed public as well.”

The economic stimulus bill does not address toll roads, only that proposed projects satisfy requirements to create jobs and promote economic growth, said Jim Berard, a spokesman for the U.S. House Transportation Committee.

In addition to $181 million for the Grand Parkway, TxDOT’s list includes an additional $50 million for four new ramps connecting the Eastex Freeway and Beltway 8.

The other toll road projects slated for stimulus funds are: $36 million for Texas 550 in Cameron County; $42.5 million for a toll road in Smith County; $144.9 million for Fort Worth’s Southwest Parkway; and $250 million for toll lanes along the Dallas-Fort Worth Connector.

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack, whose precinct includes Segment E of the Grand Parkway, said the segment satisfies the federal stimulus mandate as a “shovel-ready” project. The Harris County Toll Road Authority would add $16.6 million to the project.

Prioritizing projects

The 15-mile project, he said, potentially will alleviate congestion on U.S. 290.

Citizens Transportation Coalition chairwoman Robin Holzer, who opposed the Commissioners Court’s vote on the Grand Parkway segment, said the state should spend stimulus money on projects other than toll roads that typically are used by a small portion of motorists.

“It’s incomprehensible that TxDOT could think that this is the most important project in the Houston District,” she said.

U.S. 290, she offered, could benefit more from the federal funding.

Radack countered that a planned overhaul of U.S. 290 is not at the appropriate stage for the stimulus funds.

The Grand Parkway and the other projects landed on TxDOT’s project list after extensive planning to identify projects that would improve safety, among other criteria, Lippincott said.

The proposed Grand Parkway would span 180 miles, circling around the Houston area, at a projected cost of $4.8 billion. Segment E calls for a 15-mile, four-lane toll road that would connect the Katy Freeway and U.S. 290 at an estimated cost of $330 million, according to the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

A tolled Segment E could finance other portions of the parkway, proponents say.
Read more in the Houston Chronicle

NTTA overstated assets in 2009 accounting report

By GORDON DICKSON - Fort Worth Star Telegram - March 1, 2009

Accounting mistake may cost North Texas Tollway Authority

North Texas Tollway Authority officials say they overstated their assets by $105.5 million in a report late last year, an accounting error that could affect the agency’s financial health.

However, officials with the Plano-based agency, say they’ve taken steps to prevent such a mistake in the future. The agency is joining with the Texas Transportation Department to build the Southwest Parkway toll road in Fort Worth this year.

The agency misapplied a Transportation Department grant in August and September, placing it into the agency’s construction fund even though officials hadn’t yet met all the grant conditions, according to a statement released by tollway officials last week. The conditions were satisfied in November.

To provide a clearer financial picture, unaudited monthly reports will be consolidated with audited year-end statements, tollway officials said in the statement.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Tollway board members are eager to find a replacement for ousted Executive Director Jorge Figueredo, who departed in December, said Kenneth Barr, a board member and a former Fort Worth mayor.

In the meantime, Chief Financial Officer Janice Davis is serving as interim director. She is not a candidate for executive director, although several board members have expressed trust in her.

"Janice Davis said she will not put her name on something if it isn’t right. and I respect that," Barr said.

Davis’ career also includes stints at chief financial officer for the city of Atlanta and for the Dallas school district and as finance and budget director for Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

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DFW Regional Concerned Citizens attempts to examine issues from all directions. When a story says "By Faith Chatham" it contains my viewpoint. When it is by others, but posted by Faith Chatham, it is from someone else's viewpoint. When I discover contents which is on topic for this site, I frequently link to other sites. Usually those sites contain content which differs from my viewpoint (and frequently that of other members of DFW-RCC).