PLANO – The North Texas Tollway Authority is opening its books to officials from the four largest counties in Dallas-Fort Worth, in response to months of criticism about its practice of spending millions of dollars each year on just a small number of consulting firms, and charging hefty fees to motorists who are late paying their tolls. The Plano-based authority, which is planning, building and operating toll roads in Tarrant, Collin, Dallas and Denton counties, plans to hire an outside reviewer by the end of May, tollway authority chairman Victor Vandergriff of Arlington said.
“It’s going to be a stem to stern, top to bottom review,” said Vandergriff, who has long advocated a thorough review of tollway authority operations. “The interview process is yet to be defined, but we’ll pick one and get started toward the end of May.”
Three county judges are to meet at 3:30 p.m. Thursday with the tollway authority board – only Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley couldn’t make it, because he is out of town on official business – and talk about what they want to see in the audit-style review.
The tollway authority makes its money on tolls collected throughout the region – and soon to be Southwest Parkway/Chisholm Trail Parkway in Fort Worth – but does little of its own engineering, legal and other services in-house. Instead, a small group of companies make millions of dollars per year performing these services. Critics have said the tollway authority needs to end those cozy relationships, and give other professionals a chance to bid on toll road work.
Also, the tollway authority has been under fire for hiring relatively few minority-owned contractors.
For motorists, a hot issue has been the hundreds of dollars in late fees many people have been billed for not paying their electronic tolls on time. State Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, has filed a bill that would subject the tollway authority to the state’s sunset review process, in which state agencies are scrutinized to ensure they’re still relevant – and, if not, in rare cases they can be shut down.
Tollway authority officials oppose being subjected to an audit or sunset review by state officials, saying they prefer instead to be scrutinized by the officials in their four home counties.
-- Gordon Dickson, firstname.lastname@example.org