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Too Much Traffic & Pollution. Too Little Money

By Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 reporter

Dallas, TX – Bill Zeeble, KERA 90.1 Reporter: The North Central Texas Council of Governments helps 16 cities and counties in the region come up with plans to manage the area?s rapidly growing population, worsening ozone pollution and clogged roads. Last night was the third consecutive evening for the team of six local policy pros to show off their mobility plans for North Texas. Michael Morris, Director of Transportation for the Council, told citizens at the Bachman Lake Recreation Center that the pace of the region?s expansion has taken a toll and will continue to do so. Michael Morris, Director of Transportation, North Central Texas Council of Governments: Congestion is increasing at an alarming rate, and we?re scratching our heads, literally, in trying to figure new ways to handle growth and congestion. If you have 18% growth in demand and a 2% growth in capacity, you?ll have problems.

Zeeble: But the Council of Governments is also tackling another serious issue - money. There isn?t enough for all the planned road and rail projects over the next 25 years. So Morris says he?s looking to the legislature for help.

Morris: If urban areas cannot continue to grow, or it isn?t desirable to be here, that has revenue implications to the State. It might be cheaper to address them now than in 10 years, when it might be too late.

Zeeble: So Morris is optimistic about some Austin remedies to reduce pollution. One legislator wants to offer cash to remove the 10% of all cars on the road that belch out 50% of the pollution. Another proposal would cut a car buyer a break if he or she purchases a low-emission vehicle. One resident at the meeting wanted to see cash incentives to encourage people to carpool. Morris said he was considering another incentive as a way to bring in needed cash.

Morris: On HOV lanes, with excess capacity, is to permit users with toll tags. So, as we build a new HOV facility that?s two to three lanes long, that 20 years from now will be full, we can get 19 years? benefit of permitting people with toll tags to use it like a toll road.

Zeeble: And along the same lines, he said, carpoolers might be allowed on toll roads at a discount to reduce the number of vehicles. These are just some ideas out there to reduce road pollution and congestion while increasing revenues. But one idea he really likes is a truck ferry. This would put big trucks on trains at the eastern outskirts of Dallas, move them west past Fort Worth, then put them back on the roads. Morris says his vision of North Texas?s future includes more trains for both goods and people. But the residents at yesterday?s meeting were more concerned about heavy traffic in their front yard along Mockingbird Lane. They were especially upset by a proposed tunnel under Mockingbird. Though the city government has rejected the idea, proponents are still pushing for it. Park Cities resident Stewart Rogers wants it off every agenda and wants tunnel proponents to go away.

Stewart Rogers, resident, Park Cities: One way to get these guys off the planet and off our problem list is for you guys not to say you?ll draw a tunnel or toll road right through Mockingbird Lane. It?s one of the densest parts of Dallas. It?s among the most expensive real estate. People don?t want to sell their homes. People will have to move if you put a tunnel through. It?s crazy to think you can put a tunnel under homes and won?t affect it.

Zeeble: Michael Morris acknowledges the bad rush hour congestion in the Mockingbird area warrants a study, but doesn?t believe a tunnel will be dug under the street. He says he?ll have some findings during next month?s public meetings, when ideas from this round will be incorporated into working plans. Those then move forward in anticipation of a call for transportation and air quality improvement projects expected late this year or early next year. For KERA 90.1 I?m Bill Zeeble.