Driving Forward was the theme for Parker County’s 2008 Transportation Bond Program and immediately following the April 22 ribbon cutting for the program’s fifth and final phase of the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway, approximately 140 “drove forward” to the Doss Heritage and Culture Center to listen to the future of Parker County’s transportation improvement plans.
“You have a lot to be proud of,” said Bob Pence, President and CEO of Freese and Nichols. “What sets this program apart - and by apart I mean above - is a lot of these programs come down to two elements - leadership and partnerships.”
He said the county had been “blessed” with both, citing as an example the successful partnership between the Commissioner’s Court, the City of Weatherford, Union Pacific Railroad, TxDOT, the North Central Texas Council of Governments and the Federal Highway Transportation administration.
“For the projects on the eastern side of the county, we’ve also had to partner with the cities of Springtown, Aledo, Hudson Oaks and the both Springtown and Aledo ISD’s, “ Pence added. “It takes a lot of coordination and communication because there are so many stakeholders.”
Pence said it was through those partnerships that they gained the most value.
“That’s what makes the Parker County Transportation Bond so remarkable,” Pence said. “This program took shape with a lot of discussion and a lot of debate.”
Parker County Judge Mark Riley then got up and rhetorically asked “what’s next?”
He said he hoped to have a public meeting in June to discuss the next step on the East Loop, which when completed will become a part of the Ric Williamson Memorial Highway connecting just north of Weatherford on FM 51.
“It’s interesting to see where we’ve been and where we have to go,” Riley said. “We also recognize a man who opened some doors to help us achieve some of these accomplishments. We’re forever indebted to Ric Williamson - a man who had vision.”
Riley said that Williamson was a man with “moxie, courage and a determination to push forward - and politics be damned.”
“As we move forward we must develop that same attitude,” Riley added. “We must be honest about the problems we face in Texas and in this country about our failing infrastructure.
We must have an open and honest discussion about how to solve the problem, and it’s a real problem, and no is not an answer.”
Riley broke down the taxes motorists pay at the pump for gasoline.
“It’s easy and natural to look at the billions collected in this country from gas taxes and various fees and question why there is not enough money to keep our infrastructure sound,” Riley said.” “Inflation alone has chiseled away at the buying power of those dollars. In addition the process of how we build roads is costing this country billions in bureaucratic red tape.”
He said it was as important as ever to keep the partnerships made on track, that the county’s future included more than just the eastern loop. Riley added that lawmakers must start a discussion now on finding new and innovative ways to fund transportation needs, including his own idea that would grant the county’s voters the opportunity to vote in a half cent sales tax.
In Riley’s plan, the half cent sales tax would be for a set number of years and money raised from it could only be used for transportation projects. It could only be continued beyond the certain number of years with voter approval.
“As elected officials, we’re elected to do the right thing, not always the easy thing,” Riley said. “We plan to continue our drive forward - no is not an option.”