Michael Morris, King of the Roads

Categories: Schutze
Michael Morris, Director of Transportation for the NCTCOG, lives in Arlington. Which doesn't stop him from poking his nose into other cities' bidness.

Michael Morris sighting this morning. I want to read it into the record. Morris, of course, is my least favorite local politician. Nothing personal. Morris is "transportation director" for a government agency I bet you've barely ever heard of -- the North Central Texas Council of Governments (or NCTCOG).

He isn't elected, has way too much power and tries to pretend like he's not a politician. I wish all the wing-nuts who waste their time worrying about the New World Order would re-direct their paranoid talents to NCTCOG. Some conspiracies are real and much closer to home.

O.K., watch out. We have three obscure government agencies to keep track of here: The NCTCOG, whom you have already met; the North Texas Tollway Authority (or NTTA), which is the regional toll road agency; and the Texas Department of Transportation (or TxDOT), the state highway department. Got your acronyms down?

My new favorite reporter, Michael Lindenberger, has a story in today's Dallas Morning News about a big dispute between TxDOT and NTTA over the State Highway 121 toll road project. Let me cut to the chase.

These two agencies are fighting over a sum of money -- $3.5 to $4 billion -- that represents the second biggest total ticket for a toll road project in the nation's history, according to Lindenberger. Lotsa moolah, all of it comin’ out of your pocket, one way or the other.

Morris, according to Lindenberger, is "acting as facilitator as negotiations between NTTA and TxDOT continue."

The man in the driver's seat!

Morris, a government employee, showed up a lot during the Trinity River toll road debate making blatantly political stump speeches in favor of the toll road project during the run-up to our recent citywide referendum.

When there's money on the table, he and NCTCOG operate like a local political party. Then the minute the deal gets done, they duck back inside their turtle shell, protected by their relative anonymity as a little-known regional agency dealing in technical matters that are opaque to most voters.

Another way to put it: When the traffic lights go out, nobody calls Michael Morris and threatens to vote him out of office. What office? What phone? What Michael Morris?

And yet he and NCTCOG are making huge and fundamental decisions about how we are supposed to live and die in this whole region, almost always in favor of cars, sprawl and profit for the road-builders.

In Lindenberger's story, Morris crows about how all the money he and NCTCOG intend to squeeze out of toll road projects will help this region buck a national urban trend and keep building more roads, instead of taxing congestion to get people out of their cars the way the nation’s leading cities are doing. In this way, NCTCOG works to keep Dallas way behind the curve.

"Most states are in the maintenance business," he says, "but thanks to this innovative approach in Dallas-Fort Worth, we're in the capacity-building business."

Yeah, but, uh, Mr. Morris, here in the city, we just went through a big political process, called forwardDallas!, in which we decided we wanted fewer roads and more transit-oriented development. Then again, that was before you guys jumped into the Trinity thing and helped get another road project passed for the posse.

So who are we to talk?

I just wonder this: Here's this guy and this agency who can overrule city government. Is there anybody at NCTCOG who's ever gotten elected dog-catcher? --Jim Schutze


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