The County Line: Transparency and the Outer Loop‏

By Joe Jaynes
The County Line

The Outer Loop will be the last toll road in Collin County. With this in mind, the question becomes who will toll this very important project. The North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) is the region’s tollway provider.

However, since 52 miles of the Outer Loop is in Collin County, the commissioners’ court created the Collin County Tollroad Authority (CTA) with the thought that future tolls on Collin County’s portion of the Outer Loop would remain in Collin County.

Since the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is basically broke the revenues from the Outer Loop could be a major funding source for Collin County’s future transportation needs.

The NTTA has an issue with our CTA since they are, by statute, the region’s tollway authority. However, since the Outer Loop is, at this point, a county project there is some gray area about who has “primacy.” Basically the term primacy means what agency has the first option to build and toll the Outer Loop.

This issue has been a source of tension between the NTTA and Collin County. Right now most if not all entities in the region support the NTTA. However, the NTTA is willing to work with Collin County to develop some statutory language that both Collin County and the NTTA can live with.

We have been down this road before. (no pun intended) During the last legislative session there were a series of meetings between myself, Judge Self, Senators Shapiro and Carona and then-Chairman Paul Wageman and then-Vice-Chairman Victor Vandergriff of the NTTA on developing and agreeing to language that
we all thought resolved this issue.

Unfortunately, after the agreement was completed Judge Self went over to the House side of the legislature and had an amendment inserted into a bill that would give Collin County total primacy not only for the Outer Loop but also for the Dallas North Tollway (DNT) extension through Collin County.

This last point is particularly troubling because the DNT has historically been a NTTA project. Collin County was viewed as trying to hijack a NTTA project. Needless to say, this action killed the compromise previously agreed to above and seriously damaged the creditability of Collin County throughout the region.

As a result, the NTTA supported Senate Bill 17 which would have given them primacy for the Outer Loop. Fortunately, Senate Bill 17 died during the legislative session. Had this bill become law it would have potentially cost Collin County millions of dollars in future transportation funding.

We are now at the beginning of a new legislative session and the NTTA under now-Chairman Vandergriff is willing to again work with the commissioners’ court on language that will resolve this issue.

Collin County needs to reach an agreement with the NTTA. The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) which selects and funds major transportation projects throughout North Texas is about to vote and send their legislative agenda to Austin. The only thing missing from that agenda is how this primacy issue will be handled.

I am fully convinced that the RTC will support whatever language the NTTA proposes. Therefore, it is essential that we reach a consensus with the NTTA.

I have sent a proposal to the NTTA suggesting that there be concurrent primacy. In other words, while Collin County advances the Outer Loop through the alignment selection, engineering, environmentals etc., the NTTA will use that time to decide whether or not they want to toll the project.

If the NTTA declines then our CTA will take on the project. If the NTTA accepts the project as part of their system then Collin County will be made whole for our expenses and there will also be formula funding which means that a certain percentage of the tolls from the Outer Loop will remain in Collin County.

To be honest, I am not sure how the NTTA will respond to my proposal. They are supposed to send over their own language this week which could include or not include any of my thoughts.

Regardless of what is proposed it is my goal that all discussions over this topic be transparent and take place in commissioners’ court where the court as a whole has a chance to weigh in and hopefully come to an agreement which will be voted on and documented in a commissioners’ court order so we can avoid the missteps of the last session.

I look forward to keeping you updated on this very important issue.

Joe Jaynes is a County Commissioner in Collin County.

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