State officials debate whether to toll Texas Highway 161

| 4/18/2008

With construction scheduled to begin Monday, April 21, on a 10-mile stretch of Texas Highway 161 in the Dallas region, officials still don’t know who is paying for it or who the road will belong to when a proposed contract expires in 52 years.

In Texas, state highways are typically financed through bonds, but the method of paying off the bonds for the new stretch of Highway 161 is still being debated. It will either be with tolls or through state fuel taxes, a Texas Department of Transportation spokesman says.

“We’re still talking,” TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott told Land Line. “Our proposal is on the table until midnight Sunday night.”

TxDOT and officials from the North Texas Tollway Authority are still trying to nail down terms of the proposed 52-year contract.

The Regional Transportation Commission in the Dallas area recently approved the tolling authority’s offer of $1.2 billion to build the highway as a toll road, but TxDOT rejected that plan on Wednesday, April 16.

“The size of the upfront payment and what happens to the road in year 53 is the reason,” Lippincott said. “Is it NTTA’s road or is it TxDOT’s road? Those are still up for discussion.”

Elected officials including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, met with officials from the tolling authority and TxDOT on Thursday to try to hammer out a deal. A deal had not been reached as of press time on Friday.

Meanwhile, Lippincott said road construction will begin as scheduled.

“We’re going to have bulldozers there on Monday morning,” Lippincott said. “If we have an agreement in place, we’ll build it as a toll road, and if there isn’t an agreement in place, we’ll build it as a gas-tax road.”

Highway 161 is proposed as a link between Interstate 20 and Highway 183 along the Dallas County and Tarrant County line. Click here to view a map.

The reason for the rush, he said, is that the Dallas Cowboys are building a new stadium and Super Bowl 45 is scheduled to be in Texas in 2011.

“We’ve got to have it. It’s been a line on a map for too long,” Lippincott said.

– By David Tanner, staff writer