- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2001

DALLAS Texas has more than 183,000 miles of roads and highways a system generally considered the nation's finest but future highways definitely are going to look different.
Texas Transportation Commission specialists have decided the state should no longer build miles and miles of frontage roads along main interstates.
The policy change came several weeks ago, but few paid much attention to it though some say it is the biggest development in highway planning and construction here in decades.
The state transportation agency claims that not only will the move save millions in actual building and maintenance, but will improve traffic mobility and safety.
Initial reaction has been minimal, though it is expected business groups, many municipalities and some politicians will weigh in heavily against the proposed change.
Most of the frontage roads parallel interstate highways through heavily populated areas around Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston.
They often spawn mile after mile of minimalls or strip shopping centers, necessitating more enter-exit ramps than usual and slowing traffic moving through those metropolitan areas.
Some claim these frontage roads stimulate business.
Others insist that when traffic flow stalls, it decidedly hurts business.
Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk doesn't like the state's new plan.
"We've got to have them," said Mr. Kirk last week. "They are so critical in opening up the southern part of the city to commercial development."
He was commenting specifically about the planned opening of miles of frontage road on Interstate 20, a heavily traveled east-west highway some five miles south of downtown Dallas, an area heavily populated by low income and minority people an area the city hopes soon will spawn important new development.
Alvin R. Luedecke Jr., who retired as director of transportation planning and programming for the state highway department Aug. 31, strongly opposed the concept that lack of frontage roads hindered economic growth.
"When it takes two hours to go from the south side of Austin to north of Georgetown, that's not economic development. It's economic hindrance," he told a Dallas Morning News reporter a few days ago. "We want to use the highway system to attract an economic benefit for the through traffic by not having delays."
Many suburban cities around major Texas metropolises a few of them 100,000 to 300,000 in population seem stunned by the new plan because, their officials claim, considerable traffic that once meandered past along frontage roads soon will be funneled into city streets.
In Grand Prairie, immediately west of Dallas, there are eight frontage road projects planned, costing nearly $100 million about half of that sum emanating from the state.
The new plan "would be devastating," said Grand Prairie Mayor Charles England. He said such access roads were "crucial" to urban traffic movement.
South of here, Duncanville City Council member Grady Smithey recalled how for years his city had fought to get additional frontage roads.
He said he didn't necessarily believe that long-term the new edict would save money.
For almost 50 years in Texas, developers often donated valuable land along major highways for frontage roads, knowing that their remaining holdings would become more valuable once the frontage roads were in place.
"Why would anyone give you land now?" asked Mr. Smithey.
Though it seems a given that traffic on the main arteries will likely be expedited, many wonder aloud about the additional flow into cities themselves.
"Think how much additional flow will be siphoned into our city and what it will cost us," said William Tenney, a retired city planning specialist who lives in Plano, an upscale city some 15 miles north of Dallas.
Mr. Tenney and his neighbors might fare better than some communities because funding has already been put aside to build frontage roads along State Highway 21, which connects east-west from Interstate 35 to the Dallas Toll Road and on past Interstate 45.
Texas Transportation Commission spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said she expects a completed plan will be introduced to the three-person commission by October, certainly no later than November, and that public hearings would be held around the state shortly thereafter.

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