PUBLIC HIGHWAY, PRIVATE INTERESTS

The suburbs want a new super highway. Dallas wants a new super highway. Simple? Nope.

Seated in a small conference room at District 18 headquarters of the Texas Department of Highways and Public Transportation are 11 men. Four are state highway engineers, two are administrators from the city of Dallas; there is a lawyer from McKinney, the chairman of a large Dallas financial institution, the judge of Collin County, and a state highway commissioner. And there is Dallas Mayor Robert S. Folsom. It is March 23, 1978. The subject is a proposed highway. No public record of the meeting is being kept.

The vast blue aerial map of Far North Dallas and its neighboring suburbs is unrolled and pinned to the wall. It shows property boundaries along a maroon crayon line that extends a scale distance of 20 miles, with peaks and valleys, from the east end of the map to the west. The crayon line is a projected route for State Highway 190, a 20.3-mile concrete free-way planned to run through Garland, Piano, Richardson, the tip of Dallas that was formerly Renner, and Carrollton; it would connect State Highway 78 in the east with Interstate 35E in the west.

There is some general discussion. Mayor Folsom then delivers his message: The proposed highway cannot, must not, cut through the residential development land he owns in North Dallas. With a piece of white chalk, a state engineer strokes two diagonal lines north of and parallel to the crayon line, just east of Marsh Lane above Trinity Mills and Frankford Roads. Both miss the mayor’s property, yet Folsom insists that the chalk line farthest away be established as the route for a new eight-lane highway. The engineers decide that the route is practical, even though the extra curvature would push the roadway to design extremes. Folsom announces that he can now support the highway – and that the city of Dallas can also support it. City Manager George Schrader, one of the two Dallas officials present, nods in agreement.



Flagrant conflict of interest. Or was it? The appearance is there, but where this highway is concerned, appearances can be deceptive. In fact, Folsom turns the tables on a conflict of interest charge; he states the rerouting of the highway was an effort to avoid the appearance of a conflict. The highway would have turned his property around the Dallas North Parkway into prime commercial acreage, he says. “That’s about as good a deal as you possibly can have. And I said, ’Move that line out of my property, out above it,’ because something of that nature could cause somebody to get their thinking confused.”

A good point, and as difficult to refute as it is to confirm. The reason lies in the way a public project becomes entangled with private interests.



SH 190 is simply the northern leg of what was once called Loop 9, a belt-way that would have circumscribed the existing LBJ Freeway loop around the limits of Dallas County. As of November, 1977, when state officials wiped out the Loop 9 concept, a half-million dollars had been spent on design and planning for sections of the roadway. The northern leg survived and was renamed because no one – not even councilman John Lee-dom, who says he fears other road projects because they compete with the North Central Expressway improvements he advocates – disputed the need for a major east-west highway in the north. With the near exponential growth of Piano (3,695 in 1960 to 44,150 in 1976), Garland (38,501 to 123,250 for the same period), and Richardson (16,749 to 64,350), North Central is overloaded. Portions of LBJ Freeway also swell to the point of blockage at peak hours. SH 190 would reduce that congestion by providing an alternate route for residents of the northern suburbs who take Central south to LBJ, then head west to the tollway or the airport.

Based on the route agreed upon at the private March 23 meeting, SH 190 would establish a common Piano-Richardson border and run north of and roughly parallel to Frankford Road, crossing the At-chison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway tracks just north of the University of Texas at Dallas. Traveling-west, it would continue just south of the railroad until crossing Preston Road, where it would hold a northwesterly line to avoid a 50-acre tract of Folsom property on the Dallas North Parkway. It would then dive southwesterly, missing the northwestern corner of Folsom’s Bent Tree West development, and connect into Trinity Mills Road through Carrollton.

When Folsom gave his and the city’s support to the SH 190 chalkover route, no one had reason to be happier than a Mc-Kinney lawyer, Roland Boyd. Boyd has worked on getting a northern east-west highway built since late 1970, when Herbert Hunt hired him to seek land donations in Collin County for a highway path. The arrangement complemented two conditions: Hunt Properties Inc. owned numerous large tracts in Collin County and wanted the highway bisecting their undeveloped land (property values would rise with the development of another LBJ Freeway); and Collin County would probably not be able to raise the money for right-of-way purchase anyway (it took three tries for voters of the mostly rural county to pass a bond vote for their new courthouse). Boyd, although paid by Hunt Properties, went straight to work assisting the mayors of Piano and Richardson and the judge of Collin County. When he approached land owners for right-of-way donations, he carried a commitment from Hunt Properties to donate 100 acres of its own land.

He also carried a compelling pitch: Promise the county a 400-foot swath across your land, most of which is now undeveloped, and in return you’ll get a highway that will develop like LBJ. Boyd’s bottom line has always been that a highway will make you money. He has a chart showing the price of land along LBJ in 1957, when it was purely farmland, at $1055 per acre, increasing to $32,000 per acre in 1967 during construction, and growing ultimately to premium commercial property in 1973 with a price of $239,580 per acre. Of course, if you don’t donate right of way, there is no reason to believe you’ll get access to the highway – and then the highway won’t be of commercial benefit to you. Without frontage roads, you’ll be locked out of the action. “I have color slides of sections of LBJ where there are no frontage roads, where there’s just a chain link fence,” Boyd says. “It’s the policy of the state highway department that no frontage roads are built if the state has to buy right of way. Just drive east on LBJ and see the chain link fences. They [the suburban cities] don’t want the thing built that way.”

Boyd worked with persistence on getting all parties to agree on a route for SH 190: the suburban towns, property owners, the Texas Highway Commission. “I get all the ducks in a row and keep them there,” he says. But in 1977 Hunt Properties lost faith that the highway would soon be built, and it released Boyd from the project. Collin County and the cities of Richardson, Piano, and Garland now pay Boyd, who has received $41,488 in fees since mid-1977.

Roland Boyd prepared the maps for the March 23 meeting at District 18 headquarters. It was part of his job as an expediter of public works projects – a middleman between political subdivisions, elected officials, and wealthy and prominent individuals. And this time, he had a new political subdivision to deal with: Dallas. The ducks had been lined up, and were staying put, until Dallas annexed Renner in the spring of 1977. As a result, a route that would have missed Dallas altogether now bisected the city’s new prime residential land to the north.

Only the unqualified blessing of the Dallas City Council is needed before the state can begin a final design of SH 190. But an uncertainty, compounded apparently by unfamiliarity, pervades the council when SH 190 comes up for discussion. The most frequently asked question comes from councilmen Richard Smith and Steve Bartlett: Why can’t the highway be built north of the Santa Fe railroad? In an “Alternative Route Analysis” prepared by city transportation planners, such a route received the best score and was said to be the most consistent with planned land use.

Roland Boyd has a quick answer. Building a route north of the railroad would delay development of the project six years. It’s taken him six years to work out problems south of the railroad, he says, and to assume it would be otherwise north of the railroad is pure foolishness: “The engineering hasn’t been done north of the railroad. There’s six years put into these problems south of the railroad. . . . Those are some of the facts that you can’t get people to hold still on long enough to realize! Hell, they don’t wanna be bothered.”

Mayor Folsom has held still on the facts as rendered by Boyd, however, and has been the lone member of the city council to take a quiet and deliberate leading role in establishing Dallas’s section of the route advocated by Boyd, the suburbs, and the state highway commission.

For one, the highway is not new to Fol-som. As a large landowner in Renner, Folsom was previously approached by Boyd for a donation of right of way. He eventually gave it. A blue-line drawing kept at Folsom Investments, Inc., shows a planned “Loop 9” traversing his 50-acre tract on the Dallas North Parkway – the route he rejected in the March 23 meeting.

And Folsom has been inextricably intertwined with the development of Renner, both as investor and mayor. As mayor, he promoted the annexation of Ren-ner; because of his extensive land holdings, he fell victim, both he and Boyd claim, to a conflict-of-interest row trumped up by the press. He still smarts from that time, especially when asked about his direct, personal intervention to move the highway out of his property. He now says that he told state engineers on March 23 to bend the highway around his property in order to avoid the slightest appearance of a conflict.

This gives an apparent double meaning to the mayor’s statement in October, 1977, that he wished Loop 9 “would disappear – it will do nothing to help me.”Taken at face value, it contradicts what he claims today. In view of the District 18 meeting, however, it means the mayor feared the political consequences, as well as those in the press, of allowing Loop 9 to traverse his property.

But Folsom made another statement at the same time, and its meaning is beyond debate: He told reporters he would not take any active role in the highway’s development. Had he held to his word, there would be no question about the mayor’s motives. The members of the city council would have no questions about his credibility.

Sitting behind an island-like desk under soft fluorescent light in his business office, Folsom acknowledges the disparity between his stated and real roles. He says his action was brought on by the unexpected foot-dragging of councilmen who should know better when it comes to something as important as an east-west highway north of the city. “I never thought North Dallas representatives would be against an east-west thorough-fare,” he says. “If we don’t protect that route [keep it free from development] and at least keep it protected until we can convince the Smiths and the Bartletts that we can’t go north of the railroad, then we’ve injured the North Texas area immeasurably.”

If council members are not convinced that the project would be jeopardized by moving it north of the railroad, the chairman of the board of Republic Financial Services is. That’s why Russell Perry called the March 23 meeting at District 18 headquarters. To get the facts out. To get the mayor and Boyd and some state officials together on SH 190. A friendly meeting, to “iron out some differences,” he says. “If there is a reasoning [for my having called that meeting], I guess this thing was pending and I was hearing criticism about Dallas. I mentioned to the mayor that I thought it was wrong that we were getting this criticism. He said, ’Well, Russ, it’s the other side, not us.’ So I told the other side, ’They say it’s you, not them.’ They said, ’That’s not true.’ So I got Mr. Boyd and the mayor together. The biggest problem was Renner and the potential conflict the mayor thought he might have if the road was going where it was originally going.”

Boyd smiles at the recollection of that meeting. Dallas wouldn’t deliver on a route “until Russell Perry got all the ducks in a row,” he says. “That was the first time you ever had those men there. Russell Perry was the unofficial master of ceremonies. He told me, days before, what he wanted me to do. He wanted maps and aerials, where we’d know exactly what we were talking about. He told John Keller, the District 18 engineer, ’I want all you folks there.’ He asked Charles Simmons, the highway commissioner, ’Let’s face up to this problem.’

“We’d been going to meetings with Dallas for months and months; and all we heard was, ’Well, why don’t you move north of the railroad? Piano wants it, put it in Piano!’ That’s as deep as you could ever get. Until Russell Perry got all the ducks in a row. And when he did, the mayor responded, the city manager responded, and the assistant city manager responded. And with everybody else’s ducks in a row, Dallas got theirs in a row.”

That was on March 23. On April 19, after months of vaguely supporting an east-west highway in the north, the city council approved the chalked-up version of SH 190, known as Line F. What surprised Boyd, however, and Perry as well, was a set of conditions attached to the approval: a firm commitment that new public hearings and environmental impact statements would not be required; that no service roads would be built adjacent to residential developments; that there would be a depression in the freeway near Preston Road; and that there would be an extra-wide right of way, with visual and noise buffers.

The state found it impossible to meet those conditions, and the city’s approval expired in late July, according to a memo written by Gerald Henigsman, assistant city manager. But the city is working on SH 190 anew. In late August, the city council agreed to extend its support of route F for six months, pending a review by the Regional Transportation Council, headed by city councilman Smith.

The Regional Transportation Council is composed of representatives of 21 cities, including Dallas and its suburban neighbors to the north. When it meets this month, it will review the concerns of Dallas officials – especially involving the route north of the railroad – and a set of answers designed to address those concerns. One of the three parties supplying those answers is Roland Boyd. Another is Piano Mayor Jim Edwards, for whom Boyd has worked in establishing an alignment for SH 190 and who suggested to Smith, over lunch, that he ask the city council to refer the highway matter to the transportation council. Like Edwards’s suggestion to Smith, the idea of having Boyd and Edwards answer Dallas’s questions came from beyond the city limits: Collin County Judge Nathan E. White, Jr., prepared, reproduced, and presented the questions to the transportation council at its September meeting. The council was in considerable disagreement about what it was. to accomplish until White rose with his fully articulated list of questions. White, like Edwards, has had Roland Boyd assisting him in getting a workable highway plan for his expanding area north of Dallas.

“I feel very good about the decision,” Boyd said of the city council’s approval of line F. “They will get the facts before they make a final decision; when they get the facts, I’ve no doubt they’ll make the right decision.”

Councilman Smith now says he is “disappointed” that Collin County officials are preparing answers; he’d prefer the council’s professional staff did the preparation. “I’m not optimistic about getting a bunch of definitive answers; I’d rather see it staff to staff. That will be the next step.” And Smith is unhappy about the way the planning of SH 190 has taken place.

“I no longer put any stock in [Folsom’s] judgment. . . he seems to be emotionally involved in this issue,” he says. “The process needs to be changed to get it out of the back room. Highway decisions shouldn’t be made in the back room.”

District Engineer Keller will answer the meatiest questions for the transportation council. But facts are already surfacing at the public meetings. Keller told the transportation council in September that it would take an additional 21 months of work to prepare the highway alignment north of the railroad. Public hearings would have to be held; a new environmental impact statement would be needed; new engineering work would have to be performed.

Boyd’s six-year estimate takes into account the time required to seek new right of way if the route were changed to run north of the railroad. Boyd has had a yeoman’s task so far in securing and keeping right-of-way donations along the Collin County section of SH 190. And he insists that if the road is to be built, Collin County must deliver donated right of way, or at least a percentage sufficient to persuade the state to buy the remainder.

Yet even that is becoming a two-sided initiative: Boyd offers potential donors the promise of access by frontage roads, but Keller wrote in an August 25 letter to Smith that donations are no guarantee of frontage roads, that “the access that will be permitted or not permitted will. . . not be determined by the method by which the right of way was acquired.”

No matter. Boyd is selling. “The facts,” he says, will prevail. Many of his ducks are lined up. The University of Texas at Dallas, for example, would love to have SH 190 cut diagonally across its 300 acres of endowment property north of the campus. It would likely bring a highway interchange to a mostly commuter institution that, with continued growth, will be choked by inadequate roads, and it would offer the potential of developing the land “like LBJ,” says UTD president Bryce Jordan.

The city of Dallas?

“They can do just about anything on earth that they want to, if you can just get them to agree. . . get them in the right direction,” Boyd says of the city council. “The public can become so negative; they’ve about convinced themselves they can’t do anything. . . with environmental problems and all. . . life’s gotten so complex. [But] I have the feeling the suburbs will finally pull all this together.”

Maybe. The question is how much Dallas is willing to be led by the hand. Willthe city settle for the solo involvement ofa mayor whose role in SH 190 is dubious,if well intended? Smith thinks out loudabout it: “I understand the council has arole in policing its members; I don’t havethe stomach to challenge whether heshould vote on it.” Even though Folsomtold councilmen at the August meeting,”I’m not all for F – just let’s get aroute,” councilman Leedom was unsettled enough to look at the mayor andquip, politely, “If you know somethingwe don’t know. . .”

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