After years of negotiations, the tollway board on Friday voted to take over and jointly finance two Metroplex highway projects -- Texas 161 under construction east of Arlington, and the proposed 28-mile Southwest Parkway from I-30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 67 in Cleburne.
The Texas 161 project is clearly further along. The 8-1 vote included authorizing a $458 million payment to the state to take over Texas 161 project, which includes covering the cost of construction that has begun on the toll road, which is already a popular route to Cowboys Stadium.
Several steps remain before the tollway authority can officially take the reins of the Southwest Parkway project, which is undergoing a federal environmental assessment and may not be under construction until early 2011.
But the tollway authority can now tap into the state's gas taxes for loans it may need over the next several decades to make these toll road projects work.
Still, several tollway board members were reluctant supporters of the arrangement, saying they didn't know how the once-cash flush agency could add much more to its already burdensome $7 billion debt load.
However, they noted, the alternative would be to give Dallas-Fort Worth motorists no new roads, since the Texas Department of Transportation does not have the gas tax-supported cash flow to build everything it needs.
"I believe we are doing what we never should have done, which is become a primary provider of transportation rather than a supplemental provider," lamented tollway vice chairman Victor Vandergriff of Arlington. "I'm fearful that when people come to us to build 170, 360, we will not have the resources to do it. But from a regional perspective I think we're making the right choice."
Tollway board member Michael Nowels of Lewisville added: "I'm convinced these projects are needed for our region. I think we have an obligation to step up."
The lone vote against the project was tollway board member Bill Moore of Plano, who opposed the deal philosophically and was critical of an 11th-hour demand made by the Texas Department of Transportation that the tollway authority pay a fee and interest for any funds borrowed using the state's gas tax as collateral after the 10th year of the deal.