April 28, 2007
This afternoon, the Texas Senate approved what will most likely be the biggest transportation bill it passes this session. In terms of protecting commuters and taxpayers and correcting some of the mistakes of the past, it may have been the most significant bill in many years.House Bill 1892 began as a measure that applied mainly to Harris County. But because of the numerous roadblocks to reform measures that the people of Texas have demanded, it became a de facto omnibus initiative that, we hope, will start to correct some of Texas’ transportation excesses over the last several years.The bill includes a moratorium on the privatization of our highway system, a cooling-off period that a dramatic majority of Texans and their lawmakers have demanded.It gives local officials, not private companies, the first opportunity to build lucrative road projects that will determine how many generations of Texans live and travel.It will increase transparency by forcing officials to publicize key financial details about toll road contracts.And it will guarantee that local governments can improve a region’s comprehensive transportation system, even when those improvements cut into a private company’s profits.But more than anything, this bill will help bring the Texas Department of Transportation under control. Many lawmakers have repeatedly lamented TXDOT’s “Don’t ask, just tell” approach, which seemed to drive Texas in a direction that was opposed by so many. The legislature needed to reclaim ownership of our state’s transportation policy, and this bill is a first step – and only a first step – in this process.As significant as today’s Senate vote was, there’s still work to be done. The bill now returns to the House of Representatives, which must decide whether it will accept our version or spend precious time ironing out details as this legislative session speeds to its close. And Governor Perry must decide whether he will accept a bill that represents the will of so many Texans, even as it undoes so many transportation decisions that have been made during his tenure.Furthermore, Senate Bill 668 – my own initiative to increase accountability and transparency in toll projects which has already passed out of the Senate – still awaits action by the House. I hope this bill will get a vote that the people of Texas deserve.