AUSTIN -- After years of complaints from Texans who want better roads and highways, state officials are loosening the purse strings on billions of dollars in not only gas tax revenue but also general state funds to relieve gridlock in metro areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth.
This week, the Texas Transportation Commission approved spending for expected projects like the Chisholm Trail Parkway and the DFW Connector, as well as millions for other projects in the region.
Much of the financial relief is coming from $5 billion in Proposition 12 bonds, which were approved by voters and will be repaid by the state's general fund instead of the chronically short gas tax fund. About $2 billion of that has been spent, but the commission agreed Thursday to spend the remaining $3 billion on projects large and small statewide.
"It is a big deal," said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments. "We argued that it needed to be distributed fairly, and the Legislature listened to us."
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Bridges and roads
Of that $3 billion, $856 million is coming to Dallas-Fort Worth, including $551 million for improvements to an area near downtown Dallas that has become known by planners as the Horseshoe project because of the corridor's shape. The Horseshoe includes replacement of bridges crossing the Trinity River at Interstates 30 and 35E.
Several Fort Worth-area projects were pegged for Proposition 12 money, including $32 million to bring back some previously cut elements of the Texas 114/121 DFW Connector in Grapevine, $11 million for the U.S. 377/Cresson Bypass in Johnson County, and $8 million for Farm Road 1884 and Interstate 30/Walsh Ranch Parkway in Parker County.
In Tarrant County, there's also $3.9 million for the I-30 managed HOV lane and $23.5 million for thoroughfare improvements -- including Farm Road 1938 and U.S. 377 in Benbrook. Finally, there's $2.6 million for U.S. 287 from I-35W to Avondale-Haslet Road.
In Wise County, there's $8 million for a realignment of U.S. 287 and Business 287.
The Transportation Department distributed the Proposition 12 money in various ways, with the agency's 26 districts splitting $1.4 billion, metro planning organizations such as the council of governments getting $600 million for projects in their area, $500 million for bridges, $200 million for statewide connectivity, including in rural areas, and $200 million for congestion relief in the four largest metro areas.
In Central Texas, $200 million was pegged for the expansion of I-35 through Temple. The funding is the final piece needed to make I-35 a six-lane highway from San Antonio to Hillsboro.
In West Texas, $230 million was directed to the Ports to Plains corridor, including U.S. 87, U.S. 277 and Texas 349. The program should help assuage concerns about whether transportation funds were being handled fairly statewide, commission member Bill Meadows of Fort Worth said.
"Proposition 12 needs to be viewed more holistically before people reach conclusions about any unfairness in this," he said.
Trail and TIGER
The five-member transportation commission also:
Agreed to co-sign on the North Texas Tollway Authority's debt to build Chisholm Trail Parkway, a planned 28-mile toll road from I-30 near downtown Fort Worth to U.S. 67 in Cleburne.
Commission member Ted Houghton of El Paso initially opposed the so-called toll equity loan, saying he didn't want tax dollars at risk on a tollway project. But on Thursday, Houghton said he had concluded that interest rates were so attractive that the cost of financing the project had dropped dramatically. He said he was comfortable with accepting the remote risk that state money might someday be needed.
Chisholm Trail Parkway "will help address the transportation needs for the entire North Texas region, and especially Johnson and Tarrant counties," said state Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson.
Approved an application for federal TIGER III funds -- TIGER is an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery -- that would include $537 million to widen I-35W from I-30 to North Loop 820, making it the next phase of the North Tarrant Express project. The application also includes $200 million for expansion of I-35E north of Dallas.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796