Property taxes fair game to fund toll roads

Link to Courier-Gazette article here.

NOTE: Property taxes on the table as possible funding source for highways. UNBELIEVEABLE! Enough is NEVER enough for TxDOT’s bloated bureaucracy!

Tollway planning halts for funding discussions
By Liz McGathey
Courier-Gazette
(Created: Thursday, April 20, 2006 7:22 PM CDT)

North Texas Tollway Authority executive director Allan Rutter officially suspended all design and other work on the Eastern Extension of the President George Bush Turnpike project because of a financing issue.

The move resulted from a recent submission by the city of Rowlett and the Texas Department of Transportation of an alternative method for funding the necessary right-of-way acquisition, according to the NTTA.

Rowlett city officials said the focus is not on the delay at this point, because the project is well ahead of schedule. Instead, the city is concentrating on shifting the burden of paying for the road from its taxpayers. (Toll Party note: How is a toll tax shifting the burden AWAY from taxpayers???)

Stakeholders of the Eastern Extension, including the city of Rowlett, North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), continued to discuss and evaluate options for funding the Eastern Extension of the PGBT during the NTTA’s monthly board of directors meeting on Wednesday. Representatives from the city of Garland and the city of Sachse also were in attendance.

“We are committed to continuing this project, but the most important step at this point is to obtain a firm commitment among our partners for sharing in the cost of acquiring the right of way,” Rutter said.

According to the NTTA Web site, the Eastern Extension is a six-lane, 9.9-mile, toll road that will pass through Garland, Sachse and Rowlett, including a one-mile bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard.

The NTTA’s project overview states construction is not scheduled to begin until 2007 and will be completed and opened by 2010. The estimated cost of the extension project is $782 million.

During the stakeholders’ meeting, Mayor Shane Johnson presented the interests of the city of Rowlett to NTTA’s board of directors.

“A solution presented by Rowlett based on TxDOT’s 90/10 statewide funding standard for right-of-way acquisition has the potential to save taxpayers of Rowlett up to 5-1/2 cents on the tax rate for the costs of project right of way,” Johnson said after the meeting. “We are pleased that this solution is now being explored by all parties and encouraged and excited about the potential benefits of the plan to our partner cities and taxpayers throughout the region.”

During the March 21 regular city council meeting, Rowlett also passed a resolution clarifying its position on the use of tollway funding for local infrastructure projects including the Eastern Extension.

The resolution states, “That the City of Rowlett urges that any tolling policy adopted by the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) for the region require that all elements of the design, engineering, right of way acquisition, construction operation, maintenance and perpetual care be completely funded on toll facilities before any ‘excess revenue’ as provided in RTC approval, dated September, 2004.”

The resolution also affirmed a $20 million cap agreement only allowing as much as that figure to go toward funding of the Eastern Extension not as an exact amount to be paid by the city.

“All regional leaders in North Texas from RTC to NTTA to Collin County to Denton to Dallas County including TxDOT acknowledge that transportation funding has been undergoing a significant change over the last 12 months,” said City Manager Craig Owens. “The $20 million cap predated those regional conversations. New options are now available and that’s why we believe its important for us to look that those options; TxDOT agreed, so we’re going to take a couple of weeks now to explore those options as an alternative to the citizens of Rowlett funding it through property tax.

Futhermore, Johnson said he thinks the idea of toll roads is for them to pay for themselves. (Toll Party note: How do toll roads pay for “themselves”? WE, the taxpayers, pay the tolls, the road doesn’t pay itself!)

Funding toll roads through property taxes should be the last resort after all other options are exhausted,” he said.

Since the city has been planning for the tollway for 15 to 20 years, the area for it to be built across has been reserved in order to avoid excess right of way acquisition. With less right-of-way acquisition, the savings on the total project amounts to about $30 million.

The city of Rowlett also continues to work with NTTA to ensure that design elements, critical to the future economic impact the Eastern Extension has on Rowlett, are included in the final plans and agreements.

“Even though more than 60 percent of the design is complete, the city has yet to see documentation of many elements in the plan, including the Merrit Road Interchange, U-turns, access points, and sound mitigation that have been on the table and verbally agreed to over the last two years,” Owens said. “I think we are very close on an agreement with NTTA, but the city council cannot approve an Inter Local Agreement (ILA) that does not document the mutually agreed terms.”

Johnson is optimistic about upcoming project stakeholder meetings, he said.

“With the potential 90/10 funding solution for right-of-way acquisition and documented inclusion by NTTA of PGBT design elements critical to Rowlett, there is no reason why an agreement between all interested parties could not be worked out in the coming weeks and the project be completed on schedule if not ahead of schedule,” he said.

The Eastern Extension has long been a significant component in Rowlett’s economic development efforts to transfer more of the tax base from residential property owners to commercial properties and sales tax revenue, a city press release states. (Toll Party note: Businesses, they’re comin’ after you again! Consumers: we ARE businesses, whether we’re employees, business owners, or consumers, WE pay these additional taxes one way or the other.)

Updates on the project will continue to be provided by the city of Rowlett through the monthly City Hall News mailed with the utility bills, the quarterly Lakeside Citizen newsletter mailed to all households, the website at www.rowlett.com, and through media bulletins.

Representatives from NTTA and TxDOT did not return phone calls before press time Thursday.

Copyright © 2006 Star Community Newspapers

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