Burgess discusses highway improvement at summit
By ANDY HOGUE
Gainesville Daily Register
It was a meeting of the minds Wednesday on how - in simpler terms - to stop north Texas roads from becoming a giant parking lot.
About 80 state and local leaders from the 26th U.S. House District met for the Transportation Summit Wednesday afternoon at the University of North Texas Union Building.
“It's the third one we've done,” said U.S. Rep. Dr. Michael Burgess, R-Flower Mound, facilitator of the summit, in an interview Thursday. “We had good representation there from people from county government and state agencies.”
Because of time constraints, Burgess said, many issues did not get addressed, such as hearing from representatives from the North Texas Toll Road Authority about a possible extension of the Dallas North Tollway to Sanger and possibly to east of Gainesville.
He said he addressed concerns that most new transportation projects would be pay-as-you-go toll roads.
“Will toll roads be the only roads built in the future? The answer is no. But they will be some of the new roads built,” Burgess said.
He said the “near neighbor/near time concept” is something addressed under recent federal legislation. For instance, he said, if Cooke County allows a roadway to be built as a toll way, excess dollars collected will not be spent on Abilene, but would be used nearby in near-time way.
County Judge Bill Freeman, present at the summit, urged Burgess to give attention to the Interstate 35 interchange - it being a major gateway to Texas.Burgess said the state plans to extend Interstate 35 into a three-lane road at least as far north as Sanger. He said Cooke County officials asked that it be extended three lanes to the Red River to prepare for growth.
In panel discussions, an overpass for Highway 82 and for a loop around the city of Gainesville were discussed.
Burgess said the challenge before government leaders on all levels isn't simply wider highways but “smarter and faster” roads.
He outlined some of the aspects of the 2005 Transportation Reauthorization Bill which may save some time in building new roads in the region. They are, as follows.Limiting environmental restrictionsOne plan is to limit the amount of time environmental objections may be made to transportation projects.“This would ensure that an environmental scan has to be completed in a certain amount of time, so projects wouldn't be delayed at last-minute,” Burgess said. “... People say I-35 has always been under construction. But look at Highway 121. (Expansions to State Highway) 121 has always been in the design phase. In those 25 years it has taken to do the design of the road ... look what's happened to the cost of property left to acquire.”He noted there are ways those concerned about the environment can contact the Texas Department of Transportation to address possible ecological problems, rather than having the government shut down a highway construction project until an environmental study can be performed.
Burgess introduced language on the concept of “Design-Build” for the transportation bill. “Design-Build” is a term to describe a “project delivery method” that combines the design and construction of a road project into one contract rather than the traditional “Design-Bid-Build” method of requiring individual contracts for separate phases.
“Design-Build” is intended to give additional flexibility to design and build roads concurrently, not first-come-first-serve.
On the bright side, Burgess said, some projects that were 40 years away are now 10 years away, according to updates from Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson.
“That's not to say that I-35 will be three lanes to Oklahoma in 10 years, but the time has been reduced significantly,” he said.
Toll creditsIn March, Burgess offered an amendment that would allow states to receive transportation development credits, better known as “toll credits.”.Now, states will receive transportation development credits in a timely manner. States will be able to reinvest in their transportation systems without continually requesting additional federal monies to meet their requirements.
In layman's terms, Burgess explained, it would allow a state like Texas to receive federal matching funds for a project as it were a road built with gas taxes (federal excise taxes on gasoline).
“If TxDOT takes on a project, 1/3 of the money comes from federal government,” Burgess said.
Currently, for every one dollar Texas taxpayers send to Federal Highway Administration, they receive only 88 cents back. Under the new transportation bill, Burgess said, the law allows for a gradual increase in the national rate of return from 90.5 percent in 2005 to 92 percent in 2009.
Burgess said the ideas put forth in the transportation bill are the result of ideas brought forth by local and state officials to the federal level.
“These bills are built from the ground up, and not just handed down from Washington,” he said, adding the importance of transportation summits such as Wednesday's.
The ideas, he said, are not set in stone, as the ways roads are financed and built is a constantly evolving process.
“If the tools are not facilitating the way they were intended, then I'm prepared to fine-tune them,” he said.
He noted transportation bills have to be reauthorized every six years. The one passed in July was due to be passed Sept. 2003.
“So we were a little late!” Burgess said with a laugh.
According to the press release from Burgess' Washington, D.C., congressional office, many other leaders took to the lectern to speak.
Williamson's remarks covered the need for more flexibility regarding how we spend and receive transportation dollars noting that in the last 25 years, the population of Texas increased 57 percent and will most likely increase another 60 percent in the next 25 years, the release said.
Michael Morris, transportation director of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, remarked that the annual cost of congestion is projected to be $11.8 billion in the year 2025, and that the vision of transportation must include more than just building new roads.
There were then three panels within the event.
First, there were presentations by county representatives including Mary Horn, Judge, Denton County; Oscar Trevino, Mayor, North Richland Hills (Tarrant County); and Cooke County's Freeman. There remarks were broader in their approach encompassing several facets of transportation within their communities. Speaking on behalf of their respective counties, each discussing the larger projects they believe should be improved which included Highway 121, Interstate 35 East and West, Highway 820 and FM 51.
The second panel focused on highway infrastructure and highlighted Bill Hale, Dallas District, Texas Department of Transportation; Maribel Chavez, Fort Worth District, Texas Department of Transportation; and Larry Tegtmeyer, Wichita Falls District, Texas Department of Transportation. Focusing on the mobility requirements of DFW, Bill Hale discussed how TXDoT's financing tools could allow Texas to build roads in less time. These financial tools include toll, public/private, pass-through toll and managed lanes.
Maribel Chavez switched gears to discuss Tarrant County plans to improve highways over the next four years with $2 billion in state and federal funds. In her remarks she underscored her desire for environmental streamlining for transportation projects.
Larry Tegtmeyer commented on the need to maintain the current system and improve safety. Cooke County, which lies on the fringe of the ever-increasing metroplex, is looking for more flexibility in project delivery. Tegtmeyer also cited the need to give Interstate 35 additional lanes through Cooke County, an overpass for Highway 82 and for a loop around the city of Gainesville.
The final panel focused on North Texas' transit infrastructure and highlight Doug Allen, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART); Charles Emery, Denton County Transportation Authority; and Dick Ruddell, Fort Worth “T.”
Doug Allen opened the panel commenting that DART is the largest light-rail in the southwest and transports over 1 million passengers every week. DART's northwest/southeast corridor light-rail project runs to Carrolton and will connect with the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA).
This provided a seamless transition into Charles Emery's remarks. He provided a brief history and evolution of the DCTA and discussed the locally preferred alternative for the Denton-Highland Village-Lewisville-Carrollton corridor.
The locally preferred alternative constitutes utilizing the former MKT railroad line, which runs parallel to Interstate 35E to the East. Centrally located, the system would support riders from downtown Denton, Texas Woman's University and the University of North Texas, in addition to riders from the Lewisville-Highland Village area.
Dick Ruddell closed the final panel discussing the projected congestion levels for 2025. He too sounded the call for flexibility in spending transportation dollars and seeks a more seamless regional transit system.
Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2005 Gainesville Daily Register www.gainesvilleregister.com