The North Texas Council of Governments will reveal its new transportation plan - which could include the Blacklands Turnpike - on April 11.
Haslett: The biggest question most people have about the Blacklands Turnpike is – what happens next? The Blacklands Turnpike has a lot of momentum, but it’s not a done deal. The proposed project would build a private toll road along a strip of land between Greenville and Lavon that used to be a railroad corridor. It’s still owned by the railroad right-of-way authority, the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District, or NETEX. The private developers are Dallas-based Public Werks, which signed a lease agreement with NETEX in January. So, what now? What happens now is that everyone is waiting to see whether the Blacklands Turnpike will be included in the regional transportation plan. That involves another governmental body, the North Texas Council of Governments. The council of governments is a voluntary organization of local governments serving a 16-county region centered around Dallas-Fort Worth. Hunt County is in the northeast corner of the region. The council of governments addresses everything from emergency preparedness to workforce development to transportation, which is planned by the regional transportation council. You’ll hear people talk about the RTC – that’s what the RTC is. The regional transportation council works closely with the state department of transportation. If it’s in the council’s plan, it will likely happen. If it’s not in the council’s plan, it won’t. The Blacklands Turnpike hasn’t made it into the RTC’s plan yet, but it might. The Neal Barker of Public Werks describes how a private group takes its plan before a public body.
Barker: They look at – is the road needed, a needed facility in the area. They look at whether or not the road would be publicly accepted. And they look at how would you finance the project. If those three things check out, they generally move forward, and they advise their board whether or not this would be a good idea in the long-term metropolitan transportation plan. As they are considering putting this on the plan, the vote for the next amendment to the plan is April 11th. And as part of that, they will be holding public forums to come and discuss and get the public’s input on these projects.
Haslett: The February public meetings have already happened. But there will be meetings in March. The times and places haven’t been announced yet, but transportation officials say that information will be announced soon. The next revision to the plan is April 11th, so friends and foes of the road have about a month and a half to state their case before this next important date. Now the thing about the plan is that it’s a document in a perpetual state of revision. It can be changed at the discretion of the board. KETR spoke with Chad Edwards, a program manager for the transportation council. The way he discussed it, it sounded like Blacklands was a pretty good bet to make it into the plan. But even if it did, much of the plan would remain under review. Edwards said that some pretty big items from the plan – like the limited access aspect or even whether the road would be a toll road – won’t be taken as a given.
Edwards: The Blacklands toll road itself – we are putting into the plan as a toll road. But we also have to study it a little bit further to make sure that that’s actually a feasible option, to put it in as a toll road. So there’s going to be some work – some additional work that’s done to identify toll road, how many lanes, where are the access points, that type of thing – over the next couple of years.
Haslett: That’s right, years. So even if the Blacklands Turnpike makes it into the plan as Edwards seemed to expect, that step would represent another milestone in the project’s progress – not a green light to do everything Public Werks and NETEX have discussed. In the meantime, watch KETR dot org for word of the next public meeting on the regional transportation plan – we’ll pass that along as soon as we know the details. For KETR news, I’m Mark Haslett.