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Construction set to start on long-planned tollway
Dramatic effect is expected on north suburbs

By Chris Kelley / Urban Affairs Writer of The Dallas Morning News
Published 04-28-1996

Shortcut: Go to text about origins of 190.

Almost 40 years ago, a planner envisioned a highway in the middle of nowhere that would serve and guide future growth north of Dallas. This week, in the midst of heavy suburban sprawl, a version of that idea will finally begin to take shape. The President George Bush Tollway will be the area's largest new highway project since construction of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Freeway more than three decades ago.

Unlike LBJ, the GBT will cost drivers up to $2 a ride. Like LBJ, experts say, the Bush Tollway - 26 miles long and costing $1 billion when completed in 2004 - will forever change how Dallas moves and sprawls.

Picture the Dallas North Tollway running between Garland and Irving. The toll road - formerly known as State Highway 190 - will arc through seven northern-area cities and three counties. It will provide sorely needed east and west access through what is the Dallas region's heaviest growth path. The Bush Tollway will offer an alternative cross route to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport - the nation's second busiest. And it's only minutes from Addison Airport, the nation's third-largest general-aviation airport.

"One only has to drive on LBJ once to realize the importance of another east-west highway through the northern region," said State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano. "If you can save 20 to 30 minutes for an airport trip, you'll gladly pay the toll," she said.

For LBJ regulars, the new toll road will mean about 20 percent less traffic for the state's busiest freeway. "We have people traveling every day, and everybody here is looking forward to having easier access to the airport," said Gordon Givens, an executive at Intervoice Inc., a telecommunications company with 600 employees in the Telecom Corridor.

But easier commuting will be only one of the assets of the GBT, officials say. "The George Bush turnpike is the predicate for continued dramatic population and employment growth in Dallas, just as LBJ was," predicted Phil Montgomery, a Dallas real-estate executive and Texas Turnpike Authority board member.

The development tempo already has increased. Since 1990, 113 housing subdivisions and 23 commercial buildings have been constructed within a half-mile of the toll road's projected path, according to the North Central Texas Council of Governments. "Land that has been held dormant for a long period in expectation of the tollway will now go into construction and development at a very quick pace," said Paul Waddell, director of the Bruton Center for Development Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Almost dropped
With Thursday's groundbreaking only days away, it's hard to fathom that the project was virtually dropped from traffic maps in the late 1970s. First proposed when Dwight Eisenhower occupied the White House, the project was sketched as an outer loop expressway inside Dallas County later named Loop 9. Court battles, financing problems, land development and skirmishes between cities are to blame for the decades-long delay, officials say. It's only being built because of a change in federal law that allows the Texas Turnpike Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation to combine money to build highway projects.

Today, some experts see the Bush Tollway as the "power corridor" of the 21st century, just as Loop 12 was Dallas' super corridor in the 1950s and 1960s and LBJ in the 1970s and 1980s. The new toll road will link North Central Expressway, the Dallas North Tollway, Interstate 35E and Interstate 635 near D/FW International Airport. It will serve the metropolitan area's prosperous northern suburbs, where 75 percent of all new population and employment growth is occurring, according to the council of governments. The highway will provide time-saving trips to the airport from booming Telecom Corridor. The Richardson-rooted cluster of 500 high-technology firms along North Central between LBJ and 190 is the region's fastest-growing job center, with 75,000 jobs. Telecom Corridor, according to the council of governments, will have more than 126,000 jobs by 2020, rivaling downtown Dallas' projected 135,000 jobs. "190 is the Telecom Corridor's connection to the global economy via D/FW Airport," said Ron Robinson, president of the Richardson Chamber of Commerce. "The 21st-century industries are what's here. And these folks fly a lot."

Other cities are banking on the new tollway's potential. Carrollton city officials say they hope the so-called "super--connector" link between Interstates 35E and 635 will stimulate $1 billion in new development - or 22 percent of its current tax base. "The connector will open up some areas of industrial land use that have no access now," said Brad Mink, the city's economic-development director. "It's going to offer very significant opportunities."

Full loop
The GBT is only the first 26-mile segment of what planners hope will be a full-loop highway linking at least 30 or more cities and five counties by early in the next century. "The Bush toll road is a small part of a roadway that is nearly four times larger than this first segment," said Michael Morris, transportation director at the council of governments, the metropolitan planning agency for North Texas. "This is just the first leg to a crucial regional project."

Along the Bush corridor, new homes are sprouting like spring wildflowers. Since 1990, nearly 7,000 have been built within a half-mile of the new toll project. Richardson's 1,600-acre neighborhood known as Breckinridge, east of the toll road, is home to hundreds of new houses. "We think the toll road is very, very important to our residential development," said Richardson Mayor Gary Slagle, noting that Breckinridge's projected population is 14,340. "It's far enough that it won't disturb the residential area, and yet it makes living there very convenient to the rest of the metro area."

Garland Chamber of Commerce officials estimate that 40,000 jobs would be created there and that property-tax revenue could double or even triple when the corridor is fully developed to Interstate 30. Garland leaders envision a tree-lined corridor with industrial shops and offices along the highway's northwestern flank, a shopping mall and other retail areas on its southeastern end and commercial, office and residential development in between. A Wal-Mart and Home Depot already have opened near the road's intersection at State Highway 78. "This is it; it's happening," said Mayor Jamie Ratliff of the corridor's new development. ". . . We're seeing development along there in the blink of an eye."

More uncertain, however, is the toll road's impact on Dallas. The Dallas Plan, the city's long-range blueprint, calls for drawing new development to the city's south side - home to 41 percent of the population but only 16 percent of the tax base. Some experts say suburban ring roads such as the Bush Tollway - 15 miles north of downtown Dallas - serve to suck life out of the region's central city. But others argue that the new tollway actually helps reduce sprawl, which is inevitable in a fast-growing region that has no geographic constraints such as sea, mountains or rivers. "You might argue that by building another ring road, you may force more [sprawl]," said Mr. Morris of the council of governments. "But I would be more fearful that if we don't provide cross-town routes in urbanized areas - whether in the city or suburbs - we risk penetrating even more rural areas with existing radial [inward-outward] freeways." Many other factors besides highways influence where people choose to live and businesses locate - matters such as schools, home prices and perceived security, he said.

Dallas architect James Pratt said more highways such as the tollway "de-densify" the city and attract more cars. "But right now, we don't have a choice," he said. "We really need it to tie all the growth of the northern cities."

If DART's light-rail system - scheduled to open in June - proves efficient and effective, "we as a region will have to rethink how we spend all these highway dollars," Mr. Pratt said. Karen Walz, executive director of The Dallas Plan, said the new tollway is more a product of the post-World War II go-go era, when the car reshaped Dallas' urban form forever. "The decision to build this road was made decades ago," she said. "We cannot remake the entire region to fit our image now. Instead, we're trying to capitalize on our strengths and to be realistic about where we can make a difference in Dallas."

First segment
The first segment of the Bush Tollway - a 7-mile segment between North Central Expressway and Midway Road - is set to open in July 1998. Four other segments will be completed and opened in sequence. The GBT will be four to six lanes between State Highway 78 in Garland and Interstate 635 in Irving. It will eventually be widened to eight lanes along the whole roadway. Four main toll plazas - one in east Richardson, two in Far North Dallas and one in west Carrollton - will collect 50 cents each from drivers or $2 for a full 26-mile jaunt. Tolls will vary at intermediate exits and entrances, depending on the distance traveled. On average, drivers will pay 7.6 cents a mile to drive on the Bush Tollway. Like the Dallas North Tollway, the GBT will feature TollTag-only lanes at its four toll plazas and at many major entrances. State troopers will patrol the new toll road, and high-tech video surveillance cameras will capture the license plate numbers of toll scofflaws, who will get a bill and a warning in the mail.

Like the Dallas North Tollway, the GBT may be congested at peak hours, but officials don't anticipate major traffic jams. "If a toll road becomes too congested, people won't use it," turnpike administrator Jerry Shelton said. "People pay to use a toll road as long as they believe the congestion is worth the price."

Original idea
Expansive growth prompted planner Marvin Springer to propose an outer loop expressway when he was Dallas' city planner. His 1957 thoroughfare plan, which enacted the grid of roads that modern Dallas is built on, called for an outer loop road within Dallas County's edges. The project would have provided a vital ring roadway to serve Dallas' explosive suburban population while still offering a tight focus on downtown Dallas, said Mr. Springer, now 82.

"The loop expressway, in my view, was part of the change of Dallas from a moderate-sized town to a huge urban region," he said. "As you projected the growth trends then, you realized it would be needed." Between 1950 and 1960, 125 of Dallas County's 880 square miles were converted to urban use - a 100 percent rate of growth in that decade.

Mr. Springer, who left the city in 1959 to start his own consulting firm, said he had secured state highway approval and needed right of way by the early 1960s for Loop 9. Construction could have begun by 1970, he said, only a few years after LBJ opened. Loop 9's northern route would be on what is Campbell Road today. "I had the right of way worked out for the deal, but the project failed because of the selfish interests of a few landowners," Mr. Springer said.

Former Richardson Mayor Ray Noah acknowledges that he was one of the Richardson officials who opposed Loop 9 because it would have divided his city in two. "We're already divided . . . in Richardson by North Central," he said. "I am one of those who didn't want that road splitting the city." Instead, Mr. Noah said, he and supporters secured right of way about two miles north of the old Loop 9 route - all vacant land - for what was later named State Highway 190. "I met with the mayor of Plano, and we agreed that we would change our city borders to make 190 the center line. We sold it to our city councils. That was back when a good dictator could get anything done," he said.

But years of delay followed as plans for the new route had to be drawn, political support from other cities along the highway had to be secured, and stringent new federal environmental regulations took effect. It wasn't until 1977 that the state highway department granted the current route approval. Three years later, the project was declared virtually dead. Inflation in the late '70s escalated project costs. Dallas leaders and their suburban counterparts bickered over the road's alignment. Homeowners in Carrollton, who opposed SH 190 on environmental grounds, and highway supporters in Collin County battled in court, tying up progress through the 1980s.

By 1989, the lawsuits were settled in favor of SH 190 supporters, and a final freeway plan was agreed upon. By then, however, there was no state money - at least for another 15 years. There was a bigger kid on the block clamoring for attention: the $1 billion reconstruction of North Central Expressway.

No one knows exactly when or who proposed that SH 190 be turned into a toll road. In 1990, developer Ross Perot Jr. filed incorporation papers with the state seeking permission to develop SH 190 as a private toll road, but the proposal went nowhere. At the time, Mr. Perot was building a private toll road in Orange County, Calif. A year later, SH 190 supporters formally began urging the state to consider the toll road idea. They turned to the Texas Turnpike Authority, which operates the 25-mile Dallas North Tollway, the area's other toll road. But the 190-as-toll-road idea met stiff opposition from many city and county officials who wanted a freeway. By the early 1990s, the state already had begun work on SH 190 overpasses, interchanges and frontage roads. One stretch of the highway in Garland was paved and opened. But after a series of conversations among cities, counties and top state transportation officials, it became clear that a 190 freeway was still a 21st-century dream.

Toll considered
Turning a state highway into a tollway became a viable prospect in 1991 with the passage of state and federal transportation legislation. Both laws, for the first time, allowed joint cooperation between the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Turnpike Authority on mobility improvements - something that earlier would have been akin to "David fighting Goliath," David Griffin said. "Toll road was a dirty word to the state highway department until then," said Mr. Griffin, executive director of the Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition, a coalition of North Texas cities and counties that lobbies for highway projects. The breakthrough came when Arnold Oliver, the Department of Transportation's former Dallas district engineer, was appointed to lead the agency's Austin headquarters, Mr. Griffin said. Mr. Oliver is now retired. "He changed the whole culture of the place. Cooperation was his theme. If conditions and attitudes at the state were the same today as they were when he took over, we'd never have gotten 190 off the ground," said Mr. Griffin, a former Plano city manager. As cities and counties petitioned to consider 190 as a toll road, the transportation department and the turnpike agency discussed the prospect. Meanwhile, Mrs. Shapiro secured support to name the toll road after former President Bush, a Texan by choice, to honor him for the transportation legislation that made the toll project possible. The measure encourages multigovernment partnerships and the use of flexible financing for infrastructure improvements.

In August 1995, feasibility studies concluded that enough drivers would shell out a toll to drive on the toll road. But to make the project financially feasible, three other conditions had to be met. The department would have to:
* donate the route's right of way;
* donate all of its 190-related projects - a $300 million investment,
* secure for the tollway authority a $135 million federal transportation loan for early construction.

The state transportation department agreed reluctantly. The turnpike project marked the first time in Texas that a state highway project under construction would be converted to a toll road. When the federal government agreed to the upfront construction loan, the tollway authority agreed to do the project. Cooperation among rival road-building agencies is unprecedented in Texas and a national rarity, officials say. But it is a preview of things to come in times of increasing traffic congestion and shrinking budgets.

"The folks in Dallas deserve the credit for the initiative of getting TxDOT and TTA together. This is the only state where that kind of cooperation has happened," said Steve Martin, director of financial development for U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena. And if not for the persistence of a few SH 190 supporters who sweet-talked developers into keeping needed property, the Bush project would have been sunk, say officials.

By 1980, development already had spread along both sides of SH 190's path. All told, landowners donated 103 parcels of property valued at $113 million for the highway, which consumes 1,200 acres. Donations ranged from a sliver of Garland city property valued at $823 to huge tracts of Caroline Hunt's Rosewood Property Co., valued at $13.3 million. "Without the generosity of landowners, there would be no Bush tollway today," Mr. Griffin said. "They could have sold off, taken their money and run a long, long time ago." But developers will prosper from their contributions. The value of thousands of acres in Garland, Richardson, Plano and Carrollton - master-planned and zoned - will soar because of the toll road, officials say.

In agreeing to make 190 their joint city limit line, Plano and Richardson also agreed to create similar development districts along its route. The districts, which span virtually the entire road in both cities, are designed to accommodate research and development facilities, office buildings and a smattering of retail and service uses, such as gas stations and restaurants. "In the mid-1980s, Plano and Richardson talked a lot about the character of the corridor and concerns for it," said Frank Turner, Plano's development services director. "Both communities have pretty much a shared vision."

As work begins on the Bush Tollway, some officials are focusing on the region's next new major toll project: State Highway 121. Stretching over four counties, State Highway 121 is the region's hottest growth corridor. Eight of the metro area's nine fastest--growing cities since 1990 are along or near the SH 121 corridor that stretches from D/FW Airport northeastward to Plano. "At a minimum, it takes 10 years from start to finish on a road project of any consequence," Collin County Judge Ron Harris said. "We don't want to wait 40 years before we build 121 into the kind of highway it needs to be."