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State Representative Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, filed a bill to strip the Texas Turnpike Corporation of its power of eminent domain, so it would no longer have the authority to condemn and take land. Currently, Texas Turnpike Corp. may be the only private entity that can still condemn land to build toll roads. In 1991, the State of Texas repealed a law that gave private toll companies the power of eminent domain, but Texas Turnpike Corp. was grandfathered.

House Bill 565 sponsored by Representative Burkett was sparked by public outcry over the Texas Turnpike Corp.’s attempt to build the State’s only private toll road northeast of Dallas. The company had originally intended to build the road as part of its Northeast Gateway project, which aims to create an alternative to nearby Interstate 30. However, after intense opposition from cities and residents on the road’s path, the company backed down from building it.

Texas Turnpike Corp. has been searching for a project to develop for a while. When the company’s chief executive, John Crew, was asked how many projects the company had completed in its more than 20-year history, Crew responded “we haven’t done any.” Last year it eventually focused on the Northeast Gateway project.

Neal Barker, a spokesman for the corporation, said the facility offered by the project is “a reliever to 30 and a time saver.” Crew added that the company is just trying to build projects that the state and others can’t afford.

Contrastingly, landowners and residents in the path of the toll road were overwhelmingly opposed to building the road. Christopher Kurinee, a Hunt Country resident, claimed the Texas Turnpike Corp. was “a private company trying to take private land.”

Allowing private companies the power of eminent domain for “public use” continues to be a contentious issue in Texas as private companies can generate profits from their projects. According to Representative Burkett, “the eminent-domain process should begin and end with officials who are directly accountable to the voters, not to corporate shareholders.”

House Bill 565 was referred to the House Committee on Transportation and approved as substituted. It will likely be placed on the calendar for consideration by the full House of Representatives.

See the bill here.

Co-authored by Justin Hodge and Maithili Bagaria.

If you have any questions about HB 565, feel free to contact Justin Hodge at jhodge@jmehlaw.com