Officials gathered Saturday to celebrate the transfer of control of Toll 49 from the Texas Department of Transportation to the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
The NETRMA is an independent government agency created to oversee and manage transportation projects in Northeast Texas.
NETRMA chair Linda Thomas spoke of the many difficulties and obstacles that came when starting, then expanding Toll 49.
She also spoke of the benefits brought forth by the new road, which she said was important to spur economic growth in the area.
“I noticed on the television last night, they had a section about the new restaurants that have cropped up in Lindale,” she said. “All I could think about was, ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet!’”
Thomas called the project a culmination of many years of hard work from the people of Smith County, thanking those who helped the expansion of Toll 49, including Texas Transportation Commissioner and former NETRMA chairman Jeff Austin III, a longtime proponent of the project.
Austin looked back at the history of the project, which included Texas senator and former Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife, Texas Representative Larry Phillips and United States Rep. Louie Gohmert, who were also at the event.
Austin said the transfer of ownership to NETRMA signals onward movement by the city of Tyler and surrounding areas.
“What (the project) really is, is putting it back in the hands of locals, who decided, ‘let’s pick up, let’s move forward and go forward to build this,’” he said.
Austin also said the road speaks to the drive and determination of the community.
Austin also mentioned the many benefits the road would bring to the area, including faster travel time to Tyler Pounds Regional Airport and Interstate 20, and the decongestion of traffic in Tyler, which he said would improve air quality in the city.
Rep. Larry Phillips called the expansion of Toll 49 a game-changer in the community, saying the road will provide not only faster transportation around the city, but also a safer alternative to many farm roads that weren’t built to handle heavy traffic.
Gohmert called the development a result of great vision in the area, recalling other visionary projects around Tyler, such as Lake Tyler and Lake Palestine.
“This has been a vision. It’s 30 years of vision, of thinking and planning,” he said. “I’m so grateful that past generations had the vision followed by new generations that had (the same vision).”
The toll road, not yet open to the public, has a tentative opening date of March 29.
Although it is nearing completion, final roadside completions must first take place, such as striping and signage.