In a surprise move, the Texas House agreed Friday to allow private developers to take over at least 14 more road projects that are considered crucial for traffic relief, despite passionate opposition from those who who feel the state is giving up control of its roads to corporate – often foreign-owned – interests.
The list of projects includes the expansion of Interstate 35W from Interstate 30 near downtown Fort Worth to Texas 114 near Texas Motor Speedway. Fort Worth officials have said that getting new lanes built on that road by 2017 or so – even if they’re toll lanes – is crucial to the continued growth of the region.
The projects that will be built with so-called comprehensive development agreements were added as amendments to a sunset review bill for the Texas Department of Transportation, an agency that is often rebuked for its handling of public funds and aggressive pursuit of toll roads. Despite those lingering concerns, the House approved a bill that will make only minor changes to the agency during the next four years. The bill now goes to the Senate, which will be asked to concur with the changes.
The House’s approval of possibly 14 projects for privatizations – the precise number was still being analyzed Friday night -- was considered a major hurdle for supporters. Several lawmakers added projects in their districts at the last minute, in apparent compromises to win support. And it was a major defeat for those who feel the state, despite its cash-strapped status, needs to find another way to build the roads.
“Right now, this looks pretty shabby,” said state Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, who opposed the amendment allowing road development agreements, which passed 109-27. “We know what we’ve done to our transportation system. I think it’s a fragmented approach to how we deal with our needs in the state.”
In Fort Worth, the proposed I-35W expansion could be included in the North Tarrant Express project, which is already underway and includes the widening of Northeast Loop 820 and Texas 121/183. The bill that passed Friday would extend that project to include Texas 183 from Texas 121 in Bedford to Texas 161 in Irving, and East Loop 820 from Texas 183 to Randol Mill Road.
Other projects that will be ripe for privatization:
- Texas 183, managed lanes from Texas 161 to I-35E in Irving.
- Texas 249 in the Houston area.
- I-35E from U.S. 380 to I-635 in Denton County.
- Grand Parkway, Houston.
- MoPac in Austin.
- Outer Parkway project in Cameron County.
- South Padre Causeway access.
- Hidalgo County Loop.
- Highway 288 project in Brazoria and Harris counties.
- I-69 from I-30 to Sulphur River Bridge in Bowie County.
- U.S. 290/I-610 in Houston.
- U.S. 183 in Austin.
- Dallas North Tollway extension in Grayson County.
Gordon Dickson, firstname.lastname@example.org