Victor Vandergriff has just been elected chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority. The Arlington businessman is the first Tarrant County resident to take the helm of the agency, which was created in 1997.
Vandergriff succeeds Paul Wageman of Plano, the hard-driving leader who in recent years fought to keep the agency's authority to build toll roads in the region. Wageman, who is retiring from the public tollway board after 10 years, gave the tollway authority credibility at a time when many in state and local government wanted to instead see privately-funded investors build toll roads.
Those battles -- particularly the scuffle over Texas 121 toll road, now known as Sam Rayburn Tollway in Coppell, Lewisville and Carrollton -- frayed relationships between tollway officials and their counterparts in city, county and state government. And it will be up to Vandergriff and the other eight NTTA board members to mend fences over the next few years.
Vandergriff also has said he wants to bring a new leadership style to the tollway authority, which has been criticized for relying too heavily upon a small number of well-plugged engineering and consulting firms to handle most of its work.
"I think there are some concerns about the board's transparency, openness and inclusiveness," Vandergriff said. "I think I can allay those concerns."
Lots of huge projects are on the drawing board as well. First on the list is the planned construction of the Southwest Parkway/Chisholm Trail project, a 28-mile toll road from near downtown Fort Worth to Cleburne that is scheduled to be in full-blown construction by early 2011.
Although Vandergriff is the first Tarrant County resident to lead NTTA, the agency's predecessor organization, the Texas Turnpike Authority, had several Fort Worth-area leaders. Among them was Dee Kelly of Fort Worth, who as chairman was heralded for overseeing the early payment of bonds for the old Dallas-Fort Worth Tunrpike, which in 1977 was converted into a free road. It's now part of Interstate 30.
Vandergriff, a lawyer and businessman, is also chairman of Arlington's Planning and Zoning Commission and the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. He was formerly vice president of VT Inc. and Automotive Investment Group, the largest private retail automotive group in the U.S.