DALLAS, Texas — ‘No toll roads’ was the clear message that a Greenville grassroots group sent to officials in Hunt County on Tuesday morning, October 14 when they held a press conference outside the Hunt County Commissioners Courthouse to stand against the Blacklands-Northeast Corridor Gateway Toll Road. The thoroughfare would run east of Dallas and span from Garland to Greenville. Issues of privatization, eminent domain, and taxpayer costs were hot button issues.
For two years, the Greenville City Council has been meeting on this public/private project. The Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC) and its Public Werks, Inc. proposed to run a toll road through rural areas in Hunt, Rockwall and Dallas counties but the taxpaying residents of these areas have been left out in the cold on all decision making.
“The community has really woken up,” said toll road opposition coalition spokesman Bryan Slaton, who addressed the media. He said that outrage over the toll road exploded over the last month with petition signatures against the project soaring from 700 to 4,000.
A huge reason for the outcry is over the practice of eminent domain, the controversial process by which private land is taken for public use, usually through public or governmental offices.
The Blacklands-Northeast Gateway Toll Road location would cover approximately 28.3 miles from the President George Bush Turnpike (PGBT) EasternExtension in the City of Sachse (Dallas County) to US 69 in the City of Greenville (Hunt County), eventually connecting to Interstate 30 through the US69 loop, which “is anticipated to be upgraded” according to a report prepared by Baez Consulting for John Crew, president of Public Werks, Inc., the public/private partnership entity and president of Texas Turnpike Corp., who along with the North Central Texas council of Government (NCTCOG) are pushing for this project.
Potentially, seven other counties will be affected: Fate, Josephine, Lavon, Nevada, Rockwall, Sachse and Wylie. They have all signed petitions and passed resolutions against the toll road development. Even the Rockwall County, the Democratic Party passed a resolution against the toll way, according to a press release issued by the Greenville grassroots toll road opposition group.
Later, Slaton told Breitbart Texas, “This decision is going to affect us but we have no say in it.” He pointed out that the private Dallas company, the Texas Turnpike Corporation and its Public Werks, was coming into Hunt County and that the players involved were not necessarily local to Hunt County. The entire toll road approval procedure takes the process out of the taxpaying citizen’s hands, he continued.
“The people who will vote to make this toll road a reality don’t represent me,” Slaton said. “They are mayors from Grand Prairie and County Commissioners in Dallas County. As a taxpayer in Hunt County, I can’t go to a polling place and vote them out of office over what they do.”
In the group’s press release, Rockwall City Councilman Scott Milder was quoted on how the toll road process has been handled. He said, “While addressing the need for regional transportation improvements is essential to our quality of life and place, we must always do so publicly and with respect for the residents and landowners who will be affected by any future roadway development. It is unfortunate that the developers of this private toll road chose to exclude the public and affected municipalities from its process.”
Another concern was cost to the taxpayer. TTC insisted in a public meeting held in Rockwall that no public funds would be used to build the toll road; however, the Greenville opposition coalition’s partner, Texas Turf, obtained emails through Public Information Requests (PIR) that revealed otherwise.
In Hunt County alone, $17.5 million in public funds would go towards financing this private road. In email conversations between NCTCOG and TxDOT officials, these estimated costs were listed at $8.5 million for phase one, $7.5 million for phase two plus an approximate $1.7 – 2 million fee for right of way acquisition of FM 1570.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) states that right of way allows for the “acquisition of land to build, widen or enhance highways, and provides relocation assistance when needed.” It is eminent domain.
The RTC will vote on November 13th on an amendment that would add the Blacklands-Northeast Gateway Toll Road to the 2035 Mobility Plan for the DFW region. This plan is part of a long-range transportation vision.
The taxpaying citizens of Hunt County would like to be heard before then.
If the RTC votes to add the toll road to the plan, then the road would have to be approved by TxDOT after environmental processes are completed.
Senate District 2’s constitutional conservative candidate Bob Hall attended but was not part of the press conference. The toll road will cut into a portion of the multi-county region that he will represent should he win in the November midterm election.
Hall was concerned that a private company with eminent domain authority was trying to do something that the citizens are directly opposed to and have no direct voice to combat it.
“The public takes all the risk while private company makes all the decisions and all the money,” Hall told Breitbart Texas.
He also addressed the importance of limiting the use of eminent domain authority and said he hopes to get legislation passed that would allow the public to have a meaningful role in the decision-making process so that it isn’t left in the hand of so many unelected organizations.
“If this private company with eminent domain authority is successful in forcing their toll road on the people and cities that clearly do not want it here, rest assured, Texas Turnpike Corporation will be in your backyard next,” Slaton cautioned in their press release.
In addition to Texas Turf, the Greenville grassroots toll road opposition group has partnered with No Toll Road to fight this battle in Hunt County.
Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.