Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce board members voted unanimously Tuesday to support the creation of the Transportation Reinvestment Zone under consideration by Smith County.
Area Development Council Chairman Bob Westbrook told the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce board members that the Surface Transportation and Governmental Affairs Committees had voted recently to support the reinvestment zone and recommended that the full chamber board vote to support it as well.
Westbrook said the decision was made after the committees heard from representatives of both sides of the issue last week.
All board members voted for supporting the project with the exception of Randy Hopmann, Tyler district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation, who abstained from voting because of his position.
“I think it’s appropriate to take action one way or another,” Tom Mullins, president of the Tyler Chamber and Tyler Economic Development Council, said before the board voted.
Mullins noted that the Tyler Economic Development Council board voted in November to support the reinvestment 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, a significant percentage, possibly half, of 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 speed up construction of future segments of Toll 49 by eight to 12 years. They believe additional capacity would 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 believe the reinvestment zone further taps local taxpayers to fund a toll project and that the zone’s success depends on development, which is a gamble.
A public hearing regarding the proposed route of the next segment of Toll 49, the Lindale Relief Route, was held Thursday in Lindale. The relief route would run north from Interstate 20 west of Lindale to U.S. Highway 69 north of the city.
Texas Department of Transportation officials presented route options to concerned residents during the public meeting.
TxDOT spokesman Larry Krantz said residents were informed that Route G has emerged as the preferred route west of the city. The hearing triggered a 30-day comment period that will end next week, he said.
“We’ll respond to the comments and take into consideration concerns from landowners,” he said.
Following the comment period, Krantz said TxDOT would present the project’s environmental impact statement for federal approval. He said the pre-construction process could be complete by February 2015.
But funding additional projects will be another question. Officials insist financing depends on the reinvestment zone.
Smith County Judge Joel Baker said additional public meetings on the zone would be held. He hopes to have a decision on whether to create the zone no later than June or July.