March 20, 2007
Good afternoon. I guess I took a break from transportation updates during Spring Break. Break’s over, particularly in the Senate Transportation Committee, and I wanted to let you all know about some major developments coming up tomorrow.The Committee, of which I’m Vice Chair, is scheduled to consider 26 bills tomorrow, some of which would help determine how Texas builds roads, and how generations of Texans travel on them. One of those is a bill I authored that I wrote about a while back. Senate Bill 668 would force far more transparency and accountability in decisions by tolling agencies – particularly the Department of Transportation and organizations such as the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Among other things, the bill would require these agencies to get the permission of locally elected officials before they plan toll roads, refinance toll roads, divert toll revenues to other projects, or continue tolling once a road is paid off.It also would force tolling agencies to open their books to locally elected officials, seek approval from local officials before selling a toll road to a private corporation, and reimburse the cities and counties that put up tax money for roads that end up getting tolled. And, to increase accountability to voters, it would require Regional Mobility Authority boards to include elected officials.My bill complements Senate Bill 1267, which would put a two-year moratorium on any contracts that privatize Texas highways. Senator Robert Nichols, a former Texas Transportation Commissioner, is the principal author of that bill, and 24 other Senators – including me – have signed on as co-authors.The purpose of both of these bills is the same – to help Texans get their arms around these dramatic tools that the Department of Transportation and related agencies are using to re-shape Texas. The state needs to step back and take a much closer, more critical look at concession deals and toll road privatization. And the Legislature needs to make absolutely certain that, when officials decide to use these tools, they’re doing more to serve Texans than to tax them.As I’ve often said, these tools need to treat drivers as valued constituents, not resources to harvest. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a major step toward that goal.