Blacklands Turnpike
8:52 am
Wed March 13, 2013

Public meetings address Hunt-Collin toll road

Citizen input continues on the proposed turnpike that would run from Greenville to Lavon.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments Transportation Department is hosting public meetings this week on this year's amendment to the regional transportation plan.

The plan, known as Mobility 2035, outlines transportation infrastructural projects for the 16-county region served by the council. Hunt County, of which Greenville is the county seat, is in the northeastern corner of the region.

Some Hunt County residents attended a council-hosted public meeting Tuesday night in Richardson at the Richardson Civic Center. About 50 people were present. The council's presentation lasted for about an hour, after which attendees had a chance to speak.

Most of the public comments expressed opposition to the Blacklands Turnpike project, which has been included in the regional transportation plan.

Chad Edwards of the council described the turnpike's inclusion in the plan as a "placeholder," meaning that the project's construction is not guaranteed. Edwards said that other development options for the corridor - including no development at all - are being considered.

"We need to make sure that a toll road is feasible - it could be a free road, there could be an option for a rail line in that corridor," Edwards said.

The corridor is owned by NETEX, the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District. Operational railroad lines no longer exist in the part of the corridor west of Greenville. The right-of-way as it stands is largely overgrown with trees and other plants and borders on the residential property of many homes and small farms.

Duncan Webb of Plano, one of two NETEX board members representing Collin County, attended but did not speak during public comments. Webb voted against the proposal when the NETEX board moved to approve a preliminary lease agreement with developers in January. The board voted 6-5 to approve the measure.

"I didn't think (the project) was financially viable in the best interests of NETEX," Webb said immediately after Tuesday's meeting.

The NETEX board met Wednesday in Sulphur Springs. No new action regarding the Blacklands Turnpike project was taken.

Details of the agreement between NETEX and the developers, led by Dallas-based Public Werks, Inc., have not been disclosed. Although NETEX is a public body, the developers' legal counsel have petitioned the State of Texas Attorney General for the right to keep the document from being public. Documents containing trade secrets of private entities are exempt from public-information requests, and that exemption is being claimed.

Both private citizens and KETR have filed Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the document. The attorney general's office has told KETR that the state will rule on whether the agreement must be released to the public no later than April 12.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments hosted another meeting Wednesday at its offices in Arlington.  The Richardson meeting was one of three such events this week designed to gather public input. The first meeting was held Monday in Fort Worth.

The council's transportation department will hold a business meeting - which is open to the public but does not provide the opportunity for comments or questions - at 1 p.m. on Thursday at the organization's offices in Arlington.