State Lawmaker Wants to Strip Toll Company’s Eminent Domain

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Garland, proposed a bill that would end the Texas Turnpike Corp’s ability to acquire private land for road projects.

By Rhonda FanningFebruary 16, 2015 10:41 am|

This legislative session is shaping up to be a big one for transportation issues. At the center of one of those issues is whether or not eminent domain can be used in the completion of a private toll road outside of Dallas. They’re calling it the Northeast Gateway turnpike, which would link Garland to Greenville.

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Garland, has a problem with this. She wants to end the company building the road, the Texas Turnpike Corporation, power of eminent domain. The company is the only private entity that can still use this power because they were grandfathered in back in 1991 when Texas passed a bill repealing the formation of private toll companies.

Burkett tells the Texas Standard that she understands transportation is a “big economic driver in the state”, but the use of eminent domain should be limited.

“My concern with this particular project was it is being driven by a private entity, and eminent domain would be used to access the property that would be used for the road,” Burkett says. “That opens up all kinds of concerns by my constituents, by myself as a lawmaker, you know, how that eminent domain power is used, the authority behind it, and if it’s going to be fair and transparent to those people who are going to be influenced, or effected by that power. ”

Burkett’s proposal, House Bill 565, would make sure that anytime private land is taken for public needs, the process is fair and transparent.

“What it’s targeting is the process more than anything. Currently the private company has eminent domain authority, and would ultimately own that property. TxDOT [Texas Department of Transportation] does have to approve it, the distinction being who owns the property in the long run,” Burkett explains. “When a constituent has a problem with a public road right now, they can call their elected official. If it’s a private company, and they have some issues, who does it go to?”

Burkett says she’s unsure how the bill will play out in committee, but hopeful for a positive outcome. “We just want to go through the committee process, see if there are other thoughts that come in that might improve the bill, and work toward a solution that will give us the best solution, as far as transportation issues, in the North Texas area, and all of the state.

“I think this session we’re going to have a lot of attention garnered for transportation funding,” she says. “We just want to go through the committee process, see if there are other thoughts that come in that might improve the bill, and work toward the best solution, as far as transpiration issues, in the North Texas area, and all of the state.”