"I hope that our citizens weigh in on this issue since it has long-term ramifications to our city."
By: MIKE RAYE, Staff writer
For the city of Frisco, the question over tolling State Highway 121 has come full circle. A resolution calling for the allowance of tolls provided that the five local entities - Frisco, Plano, Allen, McKinney and Collin County - control them and the revenue they generate above the cost of building the road was penned by City Manager George Purefoy.
Four of the would-be partners have voted in favor of the resolution, leaving Frisco an opportunity to make it a unanimous decision when the City Council votes on the resolution Tuesday night.
Council members say they won't be pressured into casting a vote in favor of tolls by either their peers or the fact the resolution was birthed in Frisco. A balance between regional wants and local needs must be struck, they said.
"We will individually cast our votes based on what we individually believe in," Council Member Tony Felker said. "That is regardless of what others have done. I personally don't think tolls are the answer to the highway funding problem we face. We all understand - Frisco, the county and the other cities - that this is an important artery and something has to be done, but we don't want to solve the state's problems."
Mayor Pro Tem Maher Maso said the council has been faced with tough decisions before, and emerged no worse for wear, and for the betterment of the citizens it represents.
"I personally do not feel any pressure," he said. "I have seen this and previous Councils in action with difficult decisions many times in the last few years. They have always made their decisions based on sound facts and in the best interests of the citizens of Frisco. I do not see (us) doing anything less for this decision."
Maso said the money problem is one that affects all - city, county and state.
"I know all the regional governmental entities are doing the best they can with what the state has given them," he said. "TxDOT, the (North Central Texas Council of Governments) and other partners are simply trying to come up with solutions to our road problems. On Tuesday, any final citizen comments will be heard and then a decision will most likely be rendered. I hope that our citizens weigh in on this issue since it has long-term ramifications to our city."
Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Joy West recalled a statement she made during a discussion of the resolution Aug. 3, at which a decision was tabled, that the resolution "wouldn't be worth the paper it's written on" because the state would flex its muscles superceding any locally-passed resolution.
"George's resolution is a good one, and I feel that it would make a viable difference but my concern is more of the actual validity of the resolution," she said. "In my opinion, the state is after money to build roads in other areas and I'm not sure that once the resolution is enacted that it wouldn't be pushed to the side and the state will still due what they feel is best. Making 121 a toll road should be a benefit to our citizens, if we have to do so."
Council Member Matt Lafata said he's clear he won't be pressured into a decision, but unclear about the argument for tolls.
"I am glad that George championed the resolution and Frisco has shown real leadership in proposing this but I don't feel any pressure to vote for or against it," he said. "I've been against tolling from the beginning and I still haven't made up my mind as I still have a hard time swallowing the fact that we need to toll this road to get it done in a timely manner. I want to continue to exhaust all options, especially in keeping the section free between the Dallas North Tollway and Hillcrest Road. I've looked at this from every which way and in the end will do what I feel is best for the citizens of Frisco based on my research and feedback from citizens. It certainly won't be an easy decision."
Keeping the stretch of 121 fronting Frisco's main economic engine - Stonebriar Centre mall - a freeway is crucial, Lafata and others have argued. People won't pay to drive on a road to spend money at the mall, they contend.
"Every dime that is spent on tolls is a dime people won't be spending at the mall," Sharon Overall, an outspoken opponent of tolls from Plano that has pled her case before the Frisco council and others in the months leading up to toll decisions said Aug. 3. "Access should be open and free," she said.
Council Member Dr. Jim Joyner pointed to an "out clause" in the resolution that gives the local entities an opportunity to reverse votes in favor of the tolls should TxDOT fail to uphold their part of the agreement.
Section two of the resolution states "If there is any deviation...by the State of Texas, the Texas Highway Commission, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Council, or any other entity having authority over the Project, then the City Council of the City of Frisco, Texas opposes the use of tolls for the Project and upon that event, this Resolution shall become null and void."
A deviation would mean that locally collected toll revenue would be used elsewhere in the state. That's the motivation behind the resolution in the first place, as Purefoy said, preventing a "Robin Hood" scenario like the fatally flawed school finance scheme where money is taken from rich districts and paid to poorer ones.
"I feel we need to maintain control of the toll rates and the future of any excess tolls by some means, and this proposal seems to be the way to me," Joyner said. "The last phrase of the proposal does state that if TxDOT varies from the points of this proposal then we are to be considered against the tolling of 121, and with this statement I agree whole heartedly."
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