Legion of Valor recipients may now use North Texas toll roads for free.
The North Texas Tollway Authority on Thursday announced that Volvo of Dallas had stepped forward to sponsor the tolls for individuals who received either the Medal of Honor or the service cross from each military branch.
They will be issued special TollTags allowing free use of the Dallas North Tollway, President George Bush Turnpike, Sam Rayburn Tollway, Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge, Addison Airport Tunnel, Mountain Creek Lake Bridge and the future Chisholm Trail Parkway - which is scheduled to open in 2014 between downtown Fort Worth and Cleburne.
The tollway authority's trust agreement didn't allow the agency to simply ignore the tolls racked up by the relatively small number of Legion of Valor recipients, spokesman Michael Rey said. So the best way to give these motorists free passage without messing up those legal documents, he said, was to find a TollTag sponsor.
My colleague, Aman Batheja, a former Star-Telegram reporter who now covers transportation for the Texas Tribune out of Austin, first posted this link, and I thought I'd share it with you, too.
One of the most interesting presentations so far during the 15th annual Transportation and Infrastructure Summit this week in Irving came from Paul Priestman of PriestmanGoode, a U.K. design firm that thinks big about transportation options that may be available in the not-too-distant future. Aman and I are both in Irving this week covering the summit for our respective audiences.
This concept (see video) involves being able to transfer from a local commuter-type train to a long-distance, high-speed train without stopping at a station. It's a pretty neat concept. Perhaps like you, I can see flaws in the idea -- what happens, for example, if a passenger with a disability struggles to make the transfer from one car to another in the relatively short time the two trains are running parallel? But the notion certainly deserves points for creativity. Certainly it's not too hard to imagine something like this being a legitimate option in, oh, say, perhaps 50 years.
Or maybe fewer ...
And it should be pointed out that Paul Priestman, who presented the "Moving Platforms" concept on the first day of the summit Tuesday, deserves huge bonus points for the passion with which he speaks about designing mass transit with customer comfort, rather than engineering, as the main focus.
Texas' efforts to widen rural highways and add shoulders is saving lives, officials said Thursday.
The Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University analyzed accident data on 1,159 miles of roadways before and after they were improved. The analysis found that there were 133 fewer fatalities and 895 fewer injuries on those roads than before the upgrades.
Money to make those improvements came from a voter-approved bond initiative in 2003, Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Val Lopez said. The $3 billion bond package called for 20 percent of the funds to be spent on projects that would reduce crashes or improve lazardous locations.
The transportation department plans to expand the safety program, Lopez said in an email.
To recap, North Texas officials would like Amtrak to begin running the daily Texas Eagle route on the TRE line through Northeast Tarrant County and west Dallas, rather than on the crowded Union Pacific line through Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth (where Amtrak is known to routinely experience delays of an hour of more because of freight train traffic). But a $7.2 million grant to double-track the TRE line and help speed up the switch of Amtrak service will instead go back to Washington unspent if the two sides - who have been working on this project for two years - don't reach an agreement by Aug. 31. Texas was actually awarded Recovery Act funds for this project in 2010, and still hasn't spent the dough.
Amtrak's Marc Magliari sent an email this afternoon to dispute a sentence in my story asserting that Amtrak has asked TRE to assume liability on its line, even in the event of a crash involving an Amtrak train. Instead, Magliari said, Amtrak wants an agreement in which it "take(s) on the liability for our equipment, passengers, and crew - regardless of fault."
But Peter LeCody, president of Texas Rail Advocates, said Tuesday that he has sources close to the negotiations, and that "Amtrak wants TRE to assume liability for TRE's equipment, passenger and crew, regardless of fault, even if it is Amtrak's sole negligence while operating on the line."
That, LeCody said, is unacceptable to TRE.
LeCody said he also understands that the TRE, which is co-owned by two public agencies - the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and Dallas Area Rapid Transit - is limited to $250,000 in liability under state sovereign immunity laws. Those laws generally make government immune from lawsuits.
In legal terms, local governments are considered political subdivisions of the state. Texas' civil practices and remedies code generally limits damages to $250,000 per person or $500,000 for each single occurrence for bodily injury or death.
Because of that cap, Amtrak would be exposed for liability in excess of what TRE could pay out - which could be a hefty sum in the event of a rail disaster.
Amtrak may have reason to be concerned about this level of exposure. A 2004 New York Times investigation concluded that Amtrak, the nation's only coast-to-coast passenger rail line, had paid out $186 million for accidents blamed either entirely or mostly on factors outside Amtrak's control. During that time, Amtrak received billions of dollars in subsidies from Congress - and although the rail line had insurance, it didn't cover most of those costs, the investigation found.
Amtrak was created by Congress in 1970 to relieve freight railroads of the obligation to carry passenger trains. Freight railroads have traditionally required Amtrak to indemnify them for accident claims.
Despite the dispute, North Texas officials say the situation isn't as bleak as it may seem. They're confident Amtrak and TRE can reach an agreement by Aug. 31 - and not send the money back to Washington.
"We're quite comfortable with the position the negotiations are in right now," said Fort Worth Councilman Jungus Jordan, who heads a city committee overseeing regional passenger rail efforts.