Good news. There appears to be a thaw in the standoff over expanding a congested section of I-35W that’s been blocked by powerful anti-toll lane proponents in Austin — including the Governor and Lt. Governor.
Never mind that the state legislature approved this six-mile section in 2009 before supporting toll roads marked some politicians for extinction. As we said in a previous editorial: There was a deal, don’t break promises.
The segment in question, known as 3C, stretches from U.S. 287 north to Denton County near Fort Worth Alliance Airport, where motorists can spend half a lifetime sitting in gridlock.
Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick stopped the project cold because they don’t want state money used to add managed lanes, which are toll lanes that cost differing amounts depending on when you’re using them.
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State money is actually just a tiny piece of this $762 million project — about $18 million, which would come from gasoline and diesel taxes and annual vehicle registration fees. The biggest chunk of funding would come through federally backed loans and private activity bonds.
So the real issue isn’t state money, it’s politics.
“It goes back to one person,” said Vic Suhm, executive director of the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition, a group of business and community leaders who have pressed for this road project.
Every member of the Texas Transportation Commission, which approves major road projects, is appointed by the governor.
“So you don’t want to p.o. the Governor,” Suhm said of Abbott, who has made it clear he doesn’t want state money paying for toll projects.
This project calls for rebuilding and expanding the number of non-tolled lanes, and adding two tolled lanes in each direction.
Earlier this year, Suhm’s organization and other Fort Worth-area businesses organized a letter writing campaign urging TXDOT to keep the promise and build 3C. He says TXDOT was flooded with at least 550 letters including many from influential North Texans.
Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes, whose precinct includes this gridlocked area, believes the letters moved political opposition and an agreement is in the works.
But trying to nail down the details of approval involved a couple days of contacting involved parties who referred us to others, who sent us elsewhere.
Finally, Tuesday afternoon, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) sent a statement to this Editorial Board saying segment 3C “was considered and determined to be an existing agreement” so the project will move forward.
We “anticipate finalizing the contract by the end of the year,” the statement said.
That’s promising, but let’s get the commitment in writing.
We’re in the midst of a campaign season when politicians tend to flip like burgers on a hot griddle. And toll-road opponents are apt to raise a ruckus as November elections get near.
So we’d like to see a signed agreement before November that confirms help is on the way for one of the most congested areas in Tarrant County. We don’t want mid-term hiccups to add new obstacles.