February 22, 2007
Wednesday was a busy day for anybody who cares about transportation – and anybody who thinks the Texas Department of Transportation should be more transparent and accountable. Wednesday morning, the Senate Transportation Committee (of which I’m Vice Chair) heard a resolution sponsored by the chair, Senator John Carona. The resolution concerns an important, effective, and popular program in our state: the transportation enhancements program. This program helps Texas communities renovate iconic downtowns, beautify highways, and improve the environment. Well, last year, TXDOT abruptly reduced funding for the enhancements program in Texas and stopped accepting new applications. Chairman Carona wants the Senate to “request” that TXDOT quit lobbying Congress to weaken this important program at the federal level, too. The resolution passed our committee unanimously. It now goes to the full Senate.Later that day, the Senate Nominations Committee, of which I’m also a member, interviewed two of Governor Perry’s appointees to the Texas Transportation Commission, the board that runs TXDOT. The American-Statesman described it as “a jet blast of criticism” (you can read the story at http://www.statesman.com/news/content/region/legislature/stories/02/22/22roads.html).The potential commissioners, Ned Holmes and Fred Underwood, appear to me to both be service-minded Texans who may be caught in a tough spot. And the nominations committee ended up unanimously recommending that they be appointed. But the senators, including me, couldn’t hide our frustration at TXDOT. I remain mystified that it’s so hard to get basic information. Or to give local elected officials a say on issues as basic as setting toll rates. Or to respond to a region’s needs without being threatened with the loss of money. And the committee chairman, Sen. Kevin Eltife, declared, “I think we’ve created a monster,” citing TXDOT’s headlong embrace of tolling and privatization. I agree. As I’ve said numerous times, tolling should be nothing more than a tool that regions may consider using to solve mobility problems and create the comprehensive transportation plans they need. TXDOT has dominated this issue for far too long. It’s time for that agency to treat us like valued constituents, not resources to be harvested. Thanks, as always, for your interest.