BY ADAM RUSSELL, email@example.com
County commissioners could take action today to create a Transportation Reinvestment Zone to create a revenue stream for expansion of Toll 49 and county projects.
The Transportation Reinvestment Zone would create a two-mile corridor (one mile in each direction from the center line) that would capture future valuation increases along Toll 49.
The zone would generate an estimated $31 million to $41 million in revenue during an initially proposed 25-year lifespan, based on the county’s current tax rate.
Toll 49 is controlled and maintained by the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority. If created, a percentage of revenue would go to the mobility authority, which would leverage the tax money to borrow and build additional Toll 49 segments. The county would keep the rest of the money. Commissioners have expressed interest in dedicating the county’s share to county road projects.
The next segment slated would connect Interstate 20 to U.S. Highway 69 north of Lindale — the Lindale Relief Route.
When county officials first began discussing the zone, a 50-50 revenue split between Smith County and the mobility authority for 25 years was proposed.
But a majority of commissioners want to reduce the mobility authority’s share to 25 percent or lower and shorten the term of the agreement.
There was much discussion about the zone in 2013 but the court dropped it for much of 2014. Interested residents and groups who attended several public meetings regarding the zone have been split on the idea.
Proponents have said funding Toll 49 would attract more development along the corridor and thus create more revenue for the county long-term while providing much-needed infrastructure to accommodate growth and reduce traffic congestion.
Supporters tend to be pro-business-and-economic growth minded, including developers, engineers and bankers.
Opponents have said the county shouldn’t give up tax revenue for the toll project because it has not put enough money toward county roads for years. Opposition members include landowners opposed to Toll 49 expansion and conservative watchdogs opposed to local tax dollars going to the regional mobility authority.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said he would prefer a larger percentage go toward expanding Toll 49, which he considers the most significant transportation project for Tyler and East Texas in decades.
“I think everyone sees the value in expediting the project because (new tax revenue) is not there unless (the land around Toll 49 is) developed,” he said. “It’s a win-win for the county and Toll 49 in that sense.”
Warr also said the community would benefit from job creation and better mobility as Toll 49 expands and development follows.
Commissioner Terry Phillips opposes Smith County taxes going toward Toll 49 beyond money for right-of-way purchases, which the state requires. He said he is fundamentally opposed to taxpayers funding toll projects.
Phillips said he would like to see economic forecasts for what the Lindale Relief Route could create. He might consider supporting the zone if the expected taxes from new construction were above the amount the county would dedicate to Toll 49, he said.
“If that were the case I could view it as a tax abatement,” Phillips said.
Commissioner Cary Nix said he likes the idea of county road projects in his precinct being paid for by revenues generated by development along Toll 49. But he won’t support giving the mobility authority more than a quarter of new money generated around Toll 49, he said.
“I expect there to be plenty of discussion,” he said. “It comes down to the details for me.”
County commissioners meet today at 9:30 a.m. inside the Courthouse Annex Building, 200 E. Ferguson St. in Tyler. Public comment is allowed.