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Mobility Matters - Images of a freight truck traveling on a highway, downtown Fort Worth, a TRE locomotive, downtown Dallas skyline and highway traffic Summer/Fall 2008 — Quarterly newsletter of the Metropolitan Planning Organization

NTTA Will Build State Highway 161 Extension
Turning Momentum into Action - A Message from Michael Morris, Transportation Director
Mayor has Big Hopes for McKinney's Future - Regional Transportation Council Member Profile
Air Quality Prominent in Residents' Minds
North Texas Loses Legendary Transportation Leader
New Vehicle Boosts Department Air Quality Outreach Efforts
Answers to Recently Received Questions from North Texans

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NTTA Will Build State Highway 161 Extension
Activity just to the east of the famously clogged State Highway 360 could help reduce travel time for 200,000 people who use the highway each day. And now the question of who will finish building the much-needed State Highway 161 has been answered. The North Texas Tollway Authority voted October 15 to construct the remaining 10 miles of SH 161 after months of negotiations with the Texas Department of Transportation.

Work on the extension of SH 161 has been under way since April, when the two road-building agencies agreed the toll road would be worth more than $1 billion. The project is important for the heart of the Dallas-Fort Worth area because it will take pressure off SH 360. Construction is expected to continue as scheduled. The frontage road and some of the main lanes to Interstate Highway 30 will be completed by 2009. The remaining segments will be finished by 2012.

Getting Traffic Moving -- Image of SH 161 sign, highway overpasses and SH 161 map

SH 360 southbound, rush-hour traffic


TxDOT - Keep It Moving Dallas District
NTTA - SH 161 Progress Report [PDF]
NTTA, TxDOT SH 161 Agreement
     Press Release
NTTA - Southwest Parkway
      Progress Report

Southwest Parkway Web site
Questions/Comments - Contact Us
TxDOT and NTTA negotiated for months in an attempt to deliver the project, working through details that threatened to stop the road's development as a toll road. Building SH 161 primarily with gas taxes, which was contemplated until TxDOT and NTTA agreed on the road's value, would have only exacerbated the region's multibillion-dollar transportation shortfall by delaying other projects essential to the Dallas-Fort Worth area's mobility. And a region that has welcomed more than 1 million new residents this decade cannot afford more lengthy delays.

The North Texas economy is shaped by an intricate transportation network that moves people and goods on the ground and through the air. Conventional funding sources such as the gas tax are inadequate to meet the demands of the bustling region, requiring planners to turn to tolling and other alternative funding sources.

Fortunately, in North Texas, elected leaders are able to respond to the funding crisis, thanks in part to the State Highway 121 concession payment. But this is just one innovative tool the region hopes to use over the next two decades to keep up with the demand for better infrastructure. Managed lanes, similar to HOV lanes, will allow solo drivers to escape traffic in the main lanes for a price. They are considered a market-based solution because as traffic increases, the cost to use them increases.

The SH 121 agreement helped move along the SH 161 project by allowing the Regional Transportation Council to spend $303.8 million for construction of the next two phases of SH 161.

The money, which will come from the $3.2 billion allotment the region received for SH 121, will be repaid with interest, minimizing the risk to other Dallas-Fort Worth area projects.

NTTA also agreed October 15 to waive the market valuation of Chisholm Trail Parkway to expedite construction of it and Southwest Parkway. The market valuation process was established by Senate Bill 792, which froze private development of most toll roads for two years. NTTA was given first priority on toll-road construction and could decide after a value was attached to the project whether to develop it.

When complete, SH 161 will stretch 11.5 miles from Belt Line Road to Interstate Highway 20. And its benefit will not stop there. Transportation leaders expect SH 161 to follow SH 121's lead by bringing the region excess revenue. And that, too, will help meet the traffic needs of the region's burgeoning population.

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Turning Momentum into Action
A Message from Michael Morris, Transportation Director
The stratospheric rise in the cost of oil is affecting transportation throughout the country and the region. It doesn’t matter if your chief concern is driving to work in the morning or building the roads our residents use to get to their jobs; expensive oil has become life-altering. Things we once did without a second thought, such as commuting, are made more difficult by $4-a-gallon gasoline.

Statistics suggest Americans have responded to the sky-high fuel costs by driving less. In April, we cut back on our driving for the sixth consecutive month, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. If fuel costs continue rising, this recent trend will persist well into the future. North Texans are responding to increasing transportation costs by finding alternatives to driving alone: carpooling, vanpooling, transit, even bicycling.

The call for increased rail transit in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has grown substantially louder during the recent escalation in fuel prices.

When the Regional Transportation Council conducts public meetings, we typically receive several questions from well-informed mobility supporters. They want to know when service will be made available to their cities – or why development is taking so long.

High gas prices don’t appear to be short-lived despite recent drops. We will have to continue to find ways to minimize their effects. The RTC has made a concerted effort, through Rail North Texas, to insulate residents from the roller-coaster change of gas prices. For the past several months, the Transit Authority Partnership Subcommittee has carefully considered the complicated issue of how to fund an expanded rail system to a region of 6.2 million people. As the past two legislative sessions have shown us, achieving our goal of building 251 additional miles of rail by 2030 will require cooperation of local and state officials.

Rail North Texas map and logo


Interactive Funding Worksheet [XLS]
Rail North Texas
Questions/Comments - Contact Us

Despite two unsuccessful attempts to secure a funding mechanism, market forces may be bringing us closer to our goal. High gas prices, fuel shortages and other important factors have led the public to mobilize behind the concept of an expanded rail network. People are growing frustrated by all the talk. They want action. Perhaps this is the type of constituent dissatisfaction needed to spur action.

A look at ridership data indicates just how popular the region’s existing passenger rail network has become. In fiscal year 2007, the Trinity Railway Express welcomed more riders then the year before. And overall, transit ridership increased in 2007 by more than 1 million users. This was before $4-a-gallon gas. In May, when prices across North Texas were near $4, transit ridership increased once again.

The transit subcommittee has put forth a series of funding options, from vehicle registration fees that would pay for much of the rail expansion, to a combination of taxes and fees many believe would be more palatable to the Legislature.

For two legislative sessions, North Texas rail advocates embraced a sales-tax increase as the best option for expanding the rail network. But when businesses objected this year, the subcommittee developed alternatives that would raise enough revenue to fund the planned expansion. The subcommittee should be commended for its flexibility.

An interactive tool available at allows residents to put together their own funding proposals using options discussed by the subcommittee. Developed by NCTCOG Transportation Department staff members, this tool has helped educate lawmakers and their constituents about the complexity of the planned rail expansion.

When North Texas legislators return to Austin next year for the 81st session, they will be armed with a well developed plan that would integrate land use and transportation decisions, and aid in air quality compliance, developing a more reliable transportation system. After all … mobility matters.

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Mayor has Big Hopes for McKinney's Future
Regional Transportation Council Member Profile Bill Whitfield, Mayor, City of McKinney
McKinney Mayor Bill Whitfield has witnessed dramatic changes to his city since moving to the Collin County community 16 years ago. When Whitfield and his family arrived in the fast-growing northern suburb, McKinney's population was 23,000. Today, more than 118,000 people call McKinney home, according to recently released estimates from the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

"My first time to go to RTC, we didn't have any roads out here," Whitfield said. "[State Highway] 121 was not even on the horizon." [U.S. Highway 75] was not even on the horizon."

In 2000, SH 121 was only a two-lane road. It is now being transformed to a high-speed toll road with frontage lanes for those who don't want to pay tolls.

Photo of a highway exit to the SH 121 toll road

City of McKinney
NTTA - SH 121 Progress Report
Regional Toll Revenue
      RTC Presentation

Questions/Comments - Contact Us

"Our people here totally, totally endorsed this," he said of the idea of toll roads.

It's not that people are enthusiastic about paying tolls on the region's highways. They are in favor of toll roads because historically these roads are built far sooner than gas-tax funded roadways. For example, the Texas Department of Transportation estimated that SH 121's completion was accelerated 25 years by the decision to fund it with toll revenue.

The North Texas Tollway Authority is building SH 121 and provided the region excess revenue that can be used to expand U.S. 75 and other roadways. The state's transportation funding shortfall makes such agreements more attractive to regions such as North Texas.

Whitfield is a familiar face on the Regional Transportation Council, recently expanded from 40 to 43 members, as the policymaking body's representative for the cities of McKinney, Allen and Frisco. He is not shy about speaking up about the interests of his city and county during RTC meetings.

Whitfield also sees passenger rail service as an important part of McKinney's future, whether it's service to Plano in the next several years or a route to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport by 2030.

"We can't build roads fast enough," he said. "We must have rail."

Currently, McKinney is not densely populated enough to justify the airport line, he said, but by the time the city is built out, its population could be more than 350,000.

A prelude to airport service might be express bus service, similar to the Denton County Transportation Authority’s bus between Denton and downtown Dallas.

“If it works in Denton, it can work in Collin County… We can learn from those people,” he said. “They’ve done a great job.”

First elected to the McKinney City Council in 1998, Whitfield served two terms. Today, in addition to being a second-term mayor, he is involved in several regional and civic organizations. Whitfield and his wife, Jo Ann, have two daughters and two grandchildren.

Whitfield also is a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a nonpartisan group that seeks to foster closer ties between the federal government and cities. He serves on the Transportation and Communications Committee and the Mayors Water Council.

With McKinney continuing to expand rapidly, Whitfield sees another issue with which it must deal in years to come: water. The city and Texas A&M University are involved in a research project studying the viability of drought-resistant grass and other vegetation.

McKinney is well-positioned for the future, even with the economy encountering tough times, Whitfield said. While surrounding cities are heavily dependent on retail sales activity, 39 percent of McKinney’s tax base is industrial (2006 figures), meaning many of its residents don’t have to travel far to work.

And that’s just fine with Whitfield.

“We want our people to be able to live, work, and play right here,” he said.

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