Todd Buchanan, of Tyler, walked into the county’s Monday meeting regarding creation of a Transportation Reinvestment Zone along Toll 49 skeptical and left supporting the plan.
Buchanan, a member of the conservative watchdog group Grassroots America — We the People and the Tyler Economic Development Council, said he attended the meeting because he felt the facts had been muddied. More than two-dozen residents attended the meeting at Gander Mountain for an informal, back-and-forth, question and answer discussion regarding the merits of the zone.
There were more than a dozen questions posed to officials. Most of the residents who commented during the meeting expressed support for creating the zone.
Under the plan, revenues would be collected for 25 years on new construction within one mile on either side of the center of the two-lane Toll 49 rather than go into the Smith County general fund.
The zone would not raise taxes but rather funnel revenues created by new construction and increased valuations within the corridor to the county.
Under the early proposal being considered by commissioners, half the tax revenue would go to Smith County for county road maintenance and improvements, while the other half would go to the North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority to expedite completion of future expansions of Toll 49. Toll 49 is managed and bonded by the mobility authority.
The zone would generate an estimated $31 million to $41 million in revenue during its 25-year lifespan, based on the county's current tax rate.
Proponents say the investment zone would help speed up completion of Toll 49, which they believe will relieve traffic congestion in surrounding communities and generate commercial and residential growth. They believe diversions now would provide revenue sources and return the investment decades into the future.
Opponents say the zone would allow the state to duck its obligation to fund road construction and maintenance sufficiently. They say the reinvestment zone taps local taxpayers to fund a toll road, and that depending on commercialization of the corridor is a gamble.
Toward the end of discussion, Buchanan said it “made sense” to support the zone but that he felt all of the facts were available.
“I’m not in favor of big government but I am in favor of economic development and infrastructure that supports the needs of the community,” he said.
County Judge Joel Baker and Commissioner Jeff Warr said groups opposing the zone have politicized the process but that the court wants to hear from constituents and make the best, informed decision for Smith County residents.
Warr wants to see Toll 49’s completion expedited because he believes it will create growth opportunity and relieve traffic congestion within the city of Tyler and booming bedroom communities, including Lindale.
“We want to do what’s right. The best long-term decision may not be popular with some people,” Warr said. “It may be one of those things to go against friends and make a decision because we think it’s the right thing.”
Two meetings are scheduled before the 30-day comment period ends Dec. 16. Officials will meet at 6 p.m. today at the R.B. Hubbard Center, 304 E. Ferguson St. and 6 p.m. Thursday at the First Baptist Church Whitehouse, 801 E. Main St. in Whitehouse.
A public hearing regarding the final corridor of the Lindale Relief route, which would affect landowners along expected right-of-way acquisitions, is scheduled for Jan. 9 in Lindale.
Baker said the zone would capture 2013 tax growth within the corridor if the court approved the zone before Jan. 1. It would be about $100,000, he said. He said the public meetings help dispel rumors and misstated facts but also gives the public to air questions and concerns that officials may not have considered otherwise.
“There are still a lot of questions and details we want to look at before we make a decision,” he said. “