Image: Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack and State Senator Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe).
The Woodlands, July 5 – The Golden Hammer, Montgomery County’s leading daily newspaper, caught up with Precinct 3 County Commissioner James Noack on Independence Day and asked him the tough questions about the Tx-249 Tollway, the 3.6 mile, $73 million tollway project at the far southwest edge of Montgomery County, mostly in vacant pastures, that County Judge Craig Doyal and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley have foisted on Montgomery County citizens. The interview follows.
GH: Is the Tx-249 tollway project a done deal that Montgomery County will now build at this stage no matter what? Why or why not?
Commissioner Noack: It’s certainly looks like Craig Doyal has convinced the Texas Transportation Commission, which sets policy for the Texas Department of Transportation (Tx-DOT) that the County firmly supports the building, maintaining, and tolling of 249. It’s too early to tell but it looks like the dye is cast. It’s unfortunate that Craig misled the Transportation Commission. What’s left as an issue is the funding of the 3.6 mile roadway which is a critical piece. The public needs to weigh in and let the court know how they feel about the County issuing $70 to 90 million of debt for this road.
GH: Is there a risk to the County in issuing revenue bonds?
Commissioner Noack: Yes. The overriding name in the issuance of the bonds would be “Montgomery County.” We couldn’t let the bonds default in the likely case where there’s not enough toll revenue to support the bond payments. We’d have to step in and make the payments out of County tax dollars. I’ve talked to several experts who have agreed with my concern.
An issue came up with the financing of the Joe Corley Jail facility and whether the bonds used to construct it were actually entitled to tax exempt status. The Commissioners Court had to step into the situation hastily and sell the facility to make the County whole and pay off the bonds.
GH: Is the Tx-249 extension a road that’s necessary?
Commissioner Noack: There’s a difference between if it’s necessary and if it’s beneficial. The County will benefit from another artery that size in western Montgomery County. There are other places that need an infusion of that amount of capital far more. Doyal has argued that spending this money will open up new economic development opportunities, which is what he talked about before Tx-DOT last week. But that’s not what government should do. Economic development should move forward naturally from the direction of free markets, not some centralized government planning.
Examples of where the money and resources could be better spent are:
- improving FM 1488
- improving the Interstate 45 corridor, which is in terrible shape
- improving some sections of State Highway 242
- providing capital funds for law enforcement, which is what people are clamoring for.
GH: Who is it that really wants the project?
Commissioner Noack: No other Commissioners Court member is as engaged with the community as I am. Literally, no one among the citizens has come to me to speak for the Tx-249 tollway project.
I understand that some members of our Commissioners Court believe that the Tx-249 tollway is vital to their own interests. On the other hand, I’m a leader who tries to listen to what the community is telling me. People in Montgomery County and in Texas are soured on tollroads. We’re tired of hearing our leaders tell us “tollroads or no roads.” That’s not accurate. People in Montgomery County don’t support the tolling of the Tx-249 extension.
GH: Is it really worth Montgomery County spending $73 million on 3.6 miles and Tx-DOT spending $443 million on 11.4 miles for that road?
Commissioner Noack: No. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have grave concerns about the cost of the proposed extension. That’s very expensive for 3.6 miles and 11.4 miles of any road.
Some people on the Commissioners Court talk about that it’s important for Montgomery County to control the road and so we should take the project away from Tx-DOT. If that’s the case, then why didn’t they build the whole 15 miles of Tx-249 extension that is going through Montgomery County instead of just 3.6 miles of it.
GH: Why do we need that 3.6 miles of road to be a tollway?
Commissioner Noack: Everyone knows I’ve been opposed to tollroads and I’ve done what I can to stop them. The 242 flyover tollroad has been a disaster. We don’t need more disasters like that one.
GH: Was Craig Doyal telling the truth when he said that Montgomery County was a “unified voice” behind this County building the 3.6 miles of tollway? Why or why not?
Commissioner Noack: When Doyal issues press releases in favor of the tollroad, there are no positive comments in response. Instead, there’s an outcry against the County building the 3.6 miles of road. It’s clear that at least 7 out of every 10 people in Montgomery County oppose this project being a tollroad. If this tollroad were put to a vote, it would fail miserably.
Even people in Magnolia have contacted me to oppose this road. They should oppose the tolling of the 3.6 miles, because that road stops well short of the City of Magnolia anyway.
GH: Will Tx-DOT built the 3.6 miles of road extension if we don’t? Why or why not?
Commissioner Noack: Yes, they would build it. One of the things most disappointing to me is that Texas Transportation Commission’s mind was made up before hearing last Thursday started. Grimes County was able to stop their portion of the road from being tolled because their elected officials banded together to say they’d support the road but didn’t want it tolled in Grimes County. Grimes County is going to get its segment built without tolls. Doyal, Riley, and others should have shown the same leadership.
Tx-249 will be tolled for one reason: Craig Doyal wants the “Craig Doyal Tollroad.”
GH: What can citizens do to oppose the tollway?
Commissioner Noack: They need to be very vocal about the fact they oppose Montgomery County funding this project. Some people are always looking for ways to grow the government and this road would be crown jewel for them. They don’t listen to the people, but, instead, put their ideas on the people.
The thing I’m most proud of is getting the 20% homestead exemption, because I listened to a citizen outcry and then I worked to get it done. I hope my colleagues on the Commissioners Court will eventually do the same.