ROCKWALL — A large and often angry crowd provided almost unanimous opposition Monday night to a proposed toll road that would link Bush Turnpike with Interstate 30 near Greenville.
Neal Barker of the Texas Turnpike Corp. was interrupted repeatedly at the nearly full 1,500-seat Rockwall High School Performing Arts Center as he tried to present an overview of the Northeast Gateway toll project.
On the sensitive issue of eminent domain, which the company can impose, Barker stressed: “We want to be good neighbors. … We want your feedback.”
But when he said the turnpike corporation had to follow the same procedures as public entities, some in the audience shouted, “Bribery.” And when Barker described the eminent domain process, another yelled, “You’re a crook.”
Finally, Michael Morris, who heads the transportation department for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, took the microphone.
“Hold it, hold it, let them finish their presentation, and then we’ll turn it over to you,” he said, to a smattering of applause.
Barker waded back into the eminent domain issue, describing the process: the appraisals, negotiations with property owners, and, after 30 days, a final offer.
“That’s the law; that’s not our intent. Our intent is to negotiate for any property we need. If no agreement can be made — at that time and only at that time — could the project developer begin eminent domain proceedings,” Barker said, as the calls from the audience began again.
“Look, you came here, we’re going through this as quickly as we can,” Morris said. “You’ll get your chance.”
When that chance came, speaker after speaker unloaded on the four- to six-lane 27-mile toll road project, on Morris and on the Council of Governments.
Christine Hubley, who lives along a possible route for the toll road, asked Morris and others on the stage what she was supposed to comment on, because the feasibility study for the project hasn’t been completed.
It won’t be completed until after the Regional Transportation Commission of the Council of Governments decides whether to include it in its transportation plans, she said.
“You tell us there’s no public money, but this study was paid for with public money,” she said. “Why waste our money if the study isn’t needed?
“And you want to ‘no build’ or ‘build anything’ in the plan,” Hubley said. “You haven’t once broken out this toll road. How about you show us a ‘build everything but this toll road option?’”
Another speaker questioned the need for the road, arguing that claims that the proposed toll road will alleviate traffic on other roads, including Interstate 30, are false.
“If you’re really looking out for the public, put this on the ballot and let us vote on it,” she said.
Rockwall Mayor David Sweet said the toll road could touch portions of Rockwall, the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and Rockwall County — a proximity the city doesn’t want.
“The city of Rockwall strongly opposes the route,” he said. “Transit options should be left to local governments.”
The members of the public who spoke on the project overwhelmingly opposed it.
John Holloway, who lives near Wylie, talked about the home he shared with his wife and a 102-year-old great-aunt.
“We were lucky enough to buy that home back in 1990 at a very reasonable price,” Holloway said, and they subsequently renovated it to provide a home for their elderly relative.
“If my house is taken, and it’s very close to the Pleasant Valley route, I’ll have to try to find another single-story house with a handicapped bathroom in it,” he said. “Trust me, it doesn’t exist. Or we’ll have to find another house and renovate it. Will you pay for those renovations?
“I don’t think that’s part of your plan.”