North Texas

LBJ East Is Major Issue in Republican Texas Senate Primary

Candidates differ on managed toll lanes for LBJ East

Widening I-635 LBJ East Freeway in Dallas, Garland and Mesquite is a major issue in the Republican Primary Tuesday for State Senate District 2.

Incumbent State Sen. Bob Hall, of Edgewood in Van Zandt County, faces State Rep. Cindy Burkett, of Sunnyvale in Dallas County.

"I live not far off of 635, so I've been able to feel the effects of not getting that accomplished," Burkett said.

Widening LBJ East from U.S. 75 Central Expressway to Interstate 30 is the highest congestion relief priority of the North Texas Regional Transportation Council (RTC) after years of delay and lack of funding. Much of the stretch has no feeder lanes.

Plans called for adding two managed toll lanes in each direction to help pay for a complete reconstruction with up to three continuous access road lanes to supplement the existing five free main lanes and one HOV lane.

"We finally came up with a solution that everybody was happy with," Burkett said. "We've got 1,200 people a day moving into North Texas."

Hall opposed adding any toll lanes, as did Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, according to close observers of the project.

In January, the Texas Transportation Commission delayed the project again because managed toll lanes were still mentioned in the plans.

Hall spoke at that meeting, urging the commission to move forward with contractor procurement, but he also spoke against using tolls.

"We've been on this crack cocaine of fixing roads called toll roads," Hall said that day.

The Hall campaign did not respond to a request for comment Monday.

Hall and Burkett debated the issue on the Feb. 16 edition of NBC 5's Lone Star Politics program.

"I was opposed to it being a toll road. I was supportive of it being the road that we need to get built next," Hall said. "The money is there without any impact on any other program, and it will be done without it being a toll road."

State officials have told the RTC to find other money to make up for the managed lane revenue before the project can move forward.

"I'm very surprised and disappointed that he's taken the path that he has as far as the funding elements," said Kaufman County Judge Bruce Wood.

The Kaufman County official is a Hall critic in the LBJ fight, because the proposed money shift now includes $263 million that was earmarked for widening U.S. Highway 80 east of Town East Boulevard toward Forney in Kaufman County.

Also on the list for delays are a $128 million fix for the Interstate 30 bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard and $262 million for work on Interstate 35E between LBJ and the Denton County line. Officials in Rockwall and Denton County have also been critical of Hall's position on the LBJ East project.

Judge Wood said managed lanes are only an option for drivers with free lanes remaining for those who do not want to pay a toll to go faster. The same arrangement exists on several other Dallas area freeways.

Wood wrote a letter to Abbott requesting that the managed lanes go forward. Wood's letter complained about Hall, and Wood repeated his complaint Monday.

"He does not concentrate on making things happen, but he finds some way to delay it or put up some smoke screen with figures that just really don't add up," Wood said.

Rep. Burkett said state officials dispute Hall's claim that money is available without replacing the toll revenue.

"I'd love for him to tell us where it is," she said. "If there's something else I'm sure everybody would love to know where that's coming from."

Abortion and education have also been major issues in the District 2 Republican senate race.

Burkett said each of the two Republican candidates have raised more than $1 million in political contributions.

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