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Public hearing gets heated over who should pay for next phase of Toll Road 49

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The future of toll road 49 is in the hands of the Smith County Commissioners Court. 

Officials listened to concerns and comments Thursday night about using Smith County property tax revenues to pay for the next phase of the toll road. 

A 26 mile portion of Toll 49 is already finished but a six mile section called the Lindale relief route is still waiting to be built.

Smith County officials say the problem is the state doesn't have any money set aside to build the next phase. 

The Commissioners Court is considering using a transportation reinvestment zone or TRZ to get the project started. 

They say only new tax revenue from properties along Toll Road 49 would be put in the TRZ and only half the tax value on future growth in the county will go to funding Toll Road 49. 

Meaning if the TRZ starts this year, and the taxable value in the zone jumps from $102 to $104, only one dollar will be eligible to go towards funding Toll Road 49.

County Commissioner Terry Phillips says Smith County can't afford to lose that money, "We need a budget officer, we need a fleet manager, we need all of these things that we can't afford to give but yet we're going into this $40 million dollar deal and I'm just puzzled."

Much of the discussion went back and forth. 

"Our commissioners have an obligation to take care of the county roads," says Smith County resident Sharon Emmert.

"But they also have an obligation to support the role of our economy," replied Tom Mullins, president/CEO of the Tyler Economic Development Council. 

Many say finishing the relief route is crucial to continuing growth in East Texas. 

"The retail community, Smith County growth, we depend on this. This is truly a part of our transportation plan for Smith County," says Bob Westbrook, a Smith County small business owner. 

People at the meeting said they want the next phase of Toll 49 to be built, it's just a matter of when, and who pays for it. 

Smith County Commissioners say, if the next phase of the toll road is funded through the community, it will be finished around eight years faster than if the state pays for it. 

The last public hearing on the TRZ fund is set for 7 p.m. on Tuesday at Lindale City Hall. 

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