The fire marshal ordered a public meeting on a potential new toll road shut down after more people crowded into a room than it could legally hold.


LAVON – The fire marshal ordered a public meeting on a potential new toll road shut down after about 360 people packed into a school cafeteria that could only hold 200.

Hundreds more got stuck in an overflow room and outside – forced to peer in through windows.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) called the meeting Thursday night at NeSmith Elementary School.

When News 8 arrived just before it began at 6:00 p.m., people were parking up to seven blocks away. Closer to the campus, the cafeteria was already packed and residents lined up out the door trying to get in to the gymnasium, where an overflow room was set-up.

"There's probably 500 people and I think people are still coming," said Michael Morris, NCTCOG transportation director.

It was the fifth meeting that NCTCOG has called for the Blacklands Corridor Project. On this night, a potential route for the new toll road was being revealed.

"The public is fired up and not everybody knows about it," said Greg Willaby, a toll road opponent.

The new toll road would connect Rowlett to Greenville. It's a 28-mile stretch that's north of Interstate 30 and proposed to cost at least $750 million.

Dallas-based Texas Turnpike Corporation is asking to build the road.

NCTCOG said a new transportation corridor is needed for this region of North Texas as more people move into it.

Supporters, though, were hard to find.

"Why would I like it? I'm toll roaded to death. I commute to Frisco – from the Bush all the way to the North Dallas Parkway. And to get anywhere I have to get on a toll road," Willaby said.

But 30 minutes into the presentation, before public comments began, a police sergeant started counting the crowd.

Then, within minutes, the announcement came.

"We have to close the public meeting," Morris told the audience.

Too many people showed up. Police told News 8 that they counted 360 inside NeSmith's cafeteria, which only holds 200. The fire marshal said it was unsafe and the meeting had to end.

"In my 35 years, we've never had a shutdown meeting because of an overflow crowd. But that's good. They're interested," Morris told News 8.

NCTCOG immediately began looking for new larger venues that could accommodate all the interested residents.

Morris said this public meeting would be rescheduled in the next 10-to-14 days.

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