What is the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District and what's its role in the proposed Blacklands Turnpike project?
Haslett: There’s a proposal to build a toll road from just west of Greenville to the small town of Lavon, in southeastern Collin County. The project would involve the cooperation of local government with a private developing firm. KETR will be taking a look at who these organizations are and why this story is developing. In today’s report, we look at the governmental body involved in the proposed project. Its name is the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District. Most people call it NETEX for short. It’s an administrative body with very specific duties. Franklin County Commissioner Sam Young spoke with KETR last week.
Young: OK, NETEX is the board of directors for a short-line railroad and our charge is to maintain the railroad from Titus County, through the four or five counties, including Collin and on through there to just to the edge of the Metroplex. The only thing that we have any authority over is the right-of-way, and that’s all that we have any authority over at all and we have to keep that as a transportation corridor. And as far as the members are – when it goes through a county, each county has two representatives, usually appointed by the commissioners court.
Haslett: So, it’s a bit like an executive cabinet in that the members are appointed by elected officials, rather than elected themselves. But Young says the process for getting onto the NETEX board is an open one. Young is a county commissioner but anyone can be a board member.
Young: If someone has a recommendation, that they would like someone to serve on that board, they can go to the commissioners court in that county and ask to be put on the board for NETEX. In fact, we have two professors from A&M-Commerce, in Delta County, that were appointed by, actually – they’re not commissioners or judges.
Haslett: The right-of-way controlled by NETEX is mostly active railroad. It starts at the Titus and Franklin county line, goes through Mount Vernon, Sulphur Springs, Commerce and to Greenville. It’s operated by the Blacklands Railroad, which is under contract with NETEX. Simple enough. The less obvious aspects of NETEX’s mission have to do with the western end of the right-of-way. That’s the part going from west of Greenville down to Collin County. The rail lines in that stretch are gone.
Young: The rail had been taken up, in ’93 or ’94, from just west of Greenville into Wylie. So, that has just been sitting there for the last 20 years actually doing nothing – just allowing people to encroach on it and build, you know, sheds or garages and farm it for gardens and things like that.
Haslett: So, what to do with a stretch of old railway with no rails, when NETEX is charged with keeping the land a transportation corridor? Well, doing anything requires money. Young said NETEX barely has the money to keep its existing rails serviceable, much less fund grand projects where the rails are gone.
Young: We have not been able to upgrade the infrastructure for our railroad from Titus County over to Hunt County. And we can only go 10 miles an hour on our railroad. Because the infrastructure is so bad – the rails are so bad, the cross-ties are so bad. You can see how if we could go 30 miles an hour, how much that would increase our revenue and our business if we could go three times as fast as we go now. We spend so much money on just hitting hotspots to maintain the railroad so we can get up and down it. You know, the last 20 years we have not been able to have the revenue to be able to take care of the infrastructure for our railroad.
Haslett: Thus, part of the appeal of a toll road. Get the revenue to shore up the aging tracks used by Blacklands Railroad and get the stretch west of Greenville back to being an active thoroughfare for transport.
Young: You know, for my part of it, I think it was a great opportunity to take advantage of a corridor, a transportation corridor that would benefit the counties on the west side as well as the east side – and help us to maintain our railroad.
Haslett: Young, from Franklin County, voted yes to the preliminary agreement with the private developers that NETEX approved in January. So did both Titus County board members –Brian Lee and Charles Smith. The Hopkins county delegation was split – with Cletis Millsap voting yes and Nathan Bailey voting no. Delta County gave two thumbs down – with Harley Davis and Jason Lee Davis voting no. Hunt County gave two thumbs up, thanks to yes votes from John L. Horn and Greg Sims. The two Collin County board members voted no – those votes from Cheryl Williams and Duncan Webb. Add them all up and the yes votes win, six to five. For KETR news, I’m Mark Haslett.