The proposed Blacklands Turnpike went from concept to project over the past year.
Haslett: The proposed Blacklands Turnpike would run from Greenville to Lavon, with the general route following the old railroad right-of-way owned by the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District, or NETEX. The Blacklands Turnpike would be a public-private partnership. NETEX is a cooperative effort of county governments. The private entity here is Public Werks, Incorporated. Public Werks’ Neal Barker describes how the idea began.
Barker: Back in December of 2011, I myself was out in Suplhur Springs, visiting family for the holidays. We were sitting around drinking coffee on a Sunday morning and some of my relatives started talking about the Cotton Belt Corridor that head out of Dallas, out east toward Sulphur Springs, and about a group that had bought up the rail line and was wanting to bring the rail back , eventually bring commuter rail out to Sulphur Springs.
Haslett: Barker was familiar with the Cotton Belt Corridor plans inside the Metroplex – Public Werks had in the past advised Dallas Area Rapid Transit. But he didn’t know what was going on east of the Metroplex.
Barker: And so the conversation interested me. Through that conversation, I asked my uncle to introduce me to these guys he was talking about, and when he introduced me, it turned out to be Cletis Millsap, former county judge, who’s the guy who formed NETEX.
Haslett: Millsap is the current board president of NETEX. Neal learned that the North Texas Municipal Water District was interested in putting a water line in the NETEX right-of-way. He urged Millsap to take a hard look at that deal.
Barker: And I (said) you know, let me, let us get involved and see if we can’t help you, no fees or anything like that, but let us just see if there’s a project here where we might be able to help you extract more value from your right-of-way, or just not get taken advantage of in this water-district project. And they agreed – Cletis agreed – he asked me to come in front of the whole board and kind of introduce the idea and the concept. And in that course, in that first month there, in January of 2012, looking at maps, seeing what NETEX owned and learning a little more about rural rail transportation districts, it opened our eyes to the possibility that that right-of-way could serve as a really nice alternative into Interstate 30 in terms of a highway.
Haslett: Barker says that the idea of a road gathered momentum quickly. Milsap advised Public Werks to talk to Michael Morris, who heads the transportation department of the North Texas Council of Governments. Morris referred Public Works to Hunt County Judge John Horn. Within a few weeks, Public Werks had a pitch ready for the NETEX board. That was about this time last year. The NETEX board responded favorably to the idea.
Barker: And that’s where the relationship with Public Werks and NETEX started. We went through roughly about 10 months of negotiating on an agreement. Various lawyers (were) involved on both sides to try and perfect the right agreement that was legal and proper, and we ended up signing a lease agreement here recently. We signed a long-term ground lease agreement with NETEX for their property.
Haslett: That agreement was signed January 9th. Last week, KETR reported that in late January, area landowners filed an open-records request for a copy of the document. NETEX checked with Public Werks, whose lawyer said that the lease should remain confidential, citing mention of trade secrets. There’s an exemption in open-records laws for documents containing trade secrets. KETR has also filed an open-records request for the lease. The state attorney general’s office will rule on the requests no later than April 12. Meanwhile, what’s next? What are the next steps in the process? We’ll have that report tomorrow. For KETR News, I’m Mark Haslett.