161 plan looks rosy to officials
State wants it to be a tollway; city would get frontage roads in return
04:13 PM CST on Saturday, March 20, 2004
By STEPHANIE SANDOVAL / The Dallas Morning News
It's a deal with no real drawbacks, city officials say.
If Grand Prairie gives its blessing to the state to build State Highway 161 as a toll road from Interstate 30 north through Grand Prairie to Irving, the state in turn would build millions of dollars in frontage roads on Interstates 20 and 30 at no cost to the city.
"There's not a negative in there that's even worth considering," City Manager Tom Hart said.
Michael Morris, director of North Central Texas Council of Governments transportation, offered the deal during a City Council briefing session last week.
Building that northern section of Highway 161 through Grand Prairie as a toll road will speed up construction of the entire project, which will stretch southward to I-20, Mr. Morris said. And because construction of the segment could be financed through toll-backed bonds, it would free up about $140 million in state and federal gas-tax revenue to use for other projects in Grand Prairie and neighboring cities, Mr. Morris said.
It's a welcome opportunity for Grand Prairie officials, who long ago identified frontage roads as one of their top transportation priorities but have not had the money to build them.
"I like what I heard," Mayor Charles England said. "If you want any growth in north Grand Prairie, the only place you're going to have it, any major development, is along service roads. We're going to have to have service roads, or we're not going to get that."
The I-20 and I-30 frontage roads are important regional projects, Mr. Morris said.
"We're doing it to increase the reliability of the freeway system if an accident occurs, to move people up and down those frontage roads," he said.
The Council of Governments proposal also calls for using the freed-up funding to complete the interchange at Highway 161 and State Highway 183 in Irving and to build two interchanges one at Loop 12 and I-30, the other at Loop 12 and Highway 183.
But it's all just a preliminary proposal.
Mr. Morris said that if a general consensus to go ahead is obtained by all the affected cities and agencies, he will began preparing a detailed plan that will outline which projects will be funded and how much will be allocated for each.
Approval is needed from Irving, the North Texas Tollway Authority, the state attorney general's office, the Texas Department of Transportation, the Regional Transportation Council and others.
Mr. Morris said he has not yet briefed some of some of those groups on the proposal.
And though the offer is for frontage roads in Grand Prairie, other projects would be considered, Mr. Morris said.
City officials have been asked to prioritize their projects and make a recommendation.
Council members suggested using some of the money to speed up construction of the main lanes of Highway 161 from I-20 to I-30.
Another suggestion was to bridge the funding gap for the extension of Lake Ridge Parkway, which will meet Highway 161 at I-20, creating a link to the Joe Pool Lake area, Cedar Hill and Mansfield.
City transportation director Jim Sparks said that also among the city's top road project priorities and a suggested recipient of the funding boon would be the widening of the existing Lake Ridge Parkway from four to six lanes. That project, which stretches from Polo Road south to Cedar Hill, will require expensive additional bridge construction at two crossings over Joe Pool Lake.
Whatever projects receive funding, Grand Prairie is a winner, Mr. Hart said.
"I guess if you are just going to look for a downside, you'd say if you have a choice of driving on a free road or a toll road, you'd prefer to drive on a free road," he said.
But if making it a toll road means getting the road in more quickly, he'd rather pay up, he said.