County, groups debate future of Toll 49 funds

(TYLER MORNING TELEGRPAH) - A special zone created around the Toll 49 corridor could divert millions of dollars generated by commercial development to the toll project and Smith County roads.

But opponents say creating the Transportation Reinvestment Zone would be a boondoggle that would siphon millions of dollars away from the county.

Smith County commissioners Tuesday set a public hearing for Nov. 15 to discuss the zone's creation.


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.

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 expansion of Toll 49.

The zone would generate an estimated $31 million to $41 million in revenue over its 25-year lifespan, based on the county's current tax rate.

Commissioner Jeff Warr compared it to the city of Tyler's half-cent sales tax, designated to fund projects such as Earl Campbell Parkway, Grande Boulevard and Fire Station No. 5

Warr said the county needs a new revenue stream dedicated to county roads, and commissioners likely would approve a resolution to direct captured tax revenue to county road projects only.

"It boils down to the reinvestment zone being a way to fund county road improvements without a tax increase and speed up completion of one of the biggest road projects since Interstate 20 - Toll 49," he said. "It's huge for growth and our ability to address the growing pains as we become a more urban county."

Warr said the revenue estimates are conservative because projections did not include a major retail development, the Village at Cumberland Park, an 80-acre development on south Broadway Avenue near Toll 49.

Other commissioners view early numbers produced by North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority as favorable but want to hear from constituents about the pros and cons of creating a zone.

"Anyone with any questions or concerns or anything good or bad to say about Tax Reinvestment Zones should call us," Commissioner Terry Phillips said. "I want to hear from every side."

Grassroots America – We the People Executive Director JoAnn Fleming said her group is preparing a petition drive opposing the zone. She said it allows the state to take funding from county coffers and local property taxpayers to pay for state transportation responsibilities.

"There's no reason for the state to pick the pockets of local taxpayers and punt on their own responsibilities," she said. "Why should Smith County taxpayers give half the growth to the state for something they are responsible for in the first place?"

Mrs. Fleming said the county has also not provided a long-term transportation plan, which presents an appraisal of its roads, how much it would cost to improve their individual road rating and how they would fund improvements.

"All available funding should go to county roads," she said. "County roads are about the only interaction most residents have with the county. It's one of their core responsibilities and (the court) shouldn't be handing over local property taxes to the state for a toll road when Smith County has needs."

Warr said the county would give up money initially but that development along Toll 49 adds future value and provides money for North East Texas Regional Mobility Authority to leverage to pay for future segments. He said Tyler's half-cent sales tax was controversial but has allowed the city to invest millions of dollars for infrastructure while reducing debt.

"There was a lot of opposition to the half-cent sales tax when it was being considered, but you look at what the city has done with that money, and it's obviously worked well," he said.

Mrs. Fleming said the court is speeding through the process and should hold more public hearings throughout the community for full disclosure about the reinvestment zone.

The public hearing will 9:30 a.m. Nov. 15 inside the Commissioners Courtroom, 200 E. Ferguson St. in Tyler.

For more information or access to the 54-page Toll 49 Transportation Reinvestment Zones publication, visit or call the Smith County Commissioners Court at 903-590-4605. The public has 30 days to comment before commissioners take action.



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