Dallas Morning News Story


Mobility 2045 plan for North Texas envisions ways to keep millions more of us moving -- and includes tolls

Dallas Morning News


By Ray Leszcynski

The Mobility 2045 plan passed by the Regional Transportation Council on Thursday has both long-range vision and significant, already-present obstacles.


The guideline to greener and more efficient ways of getting around the 12 counties defined as North Central Texas acknowledges the main challenge upfront — that in the next 25 years, the area is expected to grow by 4 million residents to a total of 11.2 million.


"It will require a maturing transportation system of roads, public transportation and bicycle and pedestrian facilities, complemented by local policies and programs to enhance infrastructure investment," Page 1 of the nine-chapter, eight-appendix report reads.


For certain, the region will need to improve and create roads. Mobility 2045 shows where it's best to build. But roads are costly, and money brings politics into play.


Mobility 2045 identifies all significant transportation projects and helps form priorities. Any project that depends on state and federal money must be in the plan.


Tolled highways and lanes are a key tool in the region's future road building. Tolled funding has fallen out of favor with those in Austin who control the purse strings, though, and a non-tolled approach is executed in new projects within the Texas Clear Lanes program.


The RTC believes in tolled lanes because they help stretch available dollars and increase the number of projects that can be built. Its elected members, in turn, have sold the tolled elements to their residents.


"This battle will not end. It has not ended," former Colleyville City Council member Mike Taylor said at Thursday's RTC meeting. "When we're the closest to the people, folks, we're expected to step up and defend the people."


A letter from business leaders in Arlington, Austin, Dallas, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Fort Worth and San Antonio, sent Wednesday to Gov. Greg Abbott, was also circulated by the RTC. It advocated "tools such as managed lanes that collect user fees."


Cleaner air, yet more vehicles?
All those vehicles, all those new lanes and all that sprawl pose another issue. Much of North Texas has been dealing with federal clean air restrictions for the last 25 years, and the rules are sure to be there for the next 25.


Automakers are making increasingly efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. But they alone can't offset the potential damage from North Texas' anticipated millions of increased daily single-rider commutes.


At some point, it's up to people to ride together, which is no easy task in Texas.
"What we do need to do is give people alternatives so that they see the value of getting out of their cars," said Mike Heiligenstein, leader of the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority in the Austin area. "What is their real cost of that car being on the road? Their real cost is waiting in traffic for an hour."


Commuter rail, trails, bicycles, ride shares — they're all addressed by the North Central Texas Council of Governments staff in Mobility 2045 as part of the regional solution. The plan includes a $33.3 billion commitment to induce rail and bus ridership.


NCTCOG program manager Kevin Feldt said all planning starts with current transit infrastructure — maintenance, improving efficiency and balancing land use with the transportation uses. That accounts for more than a third of total expenditures under Mobility 2045.


"We look at rail and bus first. Then we look at higher occupancy with the HOV and managed lanes and finally get down to the freeway, tollway and arterial system that we see within the region," Feldt said. The final total outlined in the plan, $135.4 billion, is equal to the expected revenue to be funneled through the RTC the next 28 years.


Mobility 2045 includes several potential rail lines, expanding service to the Frisco corridor, Waxahachie, McKinney and Johnson and Tarrant counties.


Officials with NCTCOG, the staff behind the vision plan, are also counting on bullet train and Hyperloop technologies to move people in the future. They've also included strategies to assist with the implementation of automated vehicles. A contingent from the RTC was in Nevada last month to witness the rapid advances in Hyperloop technology.


"Smart transportation is going to come down to making the corridors out there smarter than they are today," Heiligenstein said.


'That's coming here?'
Ellis County Judge Carol Bush added a caveat to her RTC vote supporting the plan Thursday, making an exception for the inclusion of the Dallas-to-Houston high-speed-rail corridor. Dallas and Harris counties support the bullet train, while elected representatives from Ellis and seven other counties on the route have stood against the project.


With nine committee meetings, 15 public meetings and monthly reports to the RTC since April 2017, the mandated process ensures that information is available to those who will be affected.