New Warriors Enter The Texas Toll Road Battle


If you couldn’t tell already, momentum is here, and it’s with us.

A new Transportation Chair, on the Senate side, Senator John Carona, is ready to lead the fight in the legislature to keep TxDOT from selling our roads to special interest profiteers.

And it's not just lawmakers stepping up, it's reporters and papers telling the truth, such as this HARD HITTING article from Peter Gorman of Fort Worth Weekly called "Detours on a Super Highway" with this subhead, "The only thing bigger than the Trans-Texas Corridor may be the rebellion against it". My favorite pearl from this important article:

“The only solution is a moratorium on not only the TTC but all toll roads, statewide,” said Rep. Coleman. “I submitted a bill to that effect in the last legislative session, but Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and author of HB3588 ... wouldn’t let it out of committee. This is about cronyism and creating Lexus lanes and paying pals.
AND TODAY, The San Antonio Express article “Some lawmakers want to rein in TxDOT toll roads” today illustrate that fact clearly. The reporter, Patrick Driscoll writes:
The Texas Department of Transportation's full-tilt charge to build toll roads wherever possible and let private companies collect fees and profits for half a century or more could hit a wall this legislative session. TxDOT officials are asking for more money, more power and more flexibility to carry out toll-road ambitions, but some lawmakers say the agency has gone too far already. "There is a growing concern about the wide authority that has been given TxDOT in recent years as well as the abuse of that authority," said Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. "I believe the Legislature will either significantly rein in TxDOT or at a minimum be very reluctant to pass any of the initiatives that TxDOT brings forward," he said.”
The special interests Rep. Mike Krusee chimes in:
"I don't know if it'll be a battleground," he said. "I think there'll be a healthy debate and a healthy discussion."
The sleeping beast awakens:
TxDOT's road to tolls got bumpier last year as more people began to realize what could be in store — the agency wants to toll every new highway lane feasible and is willing to limit improvements to free roads to guarantee use of tollways. Then complaints rolled in that TxDOT was using its financial might to coerce local officials from El Paso to Houston to play along, which the agency denies, and was pushing for 50-year concession deals with companies offering cash up front in exchange for profits that motorists would have to pay in higher toll fees. "It's our own fault," said Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, who as a member of the House Appropriations Committee helped write TxDOT budgets. "We gave them too much authority and trusted them too much."
TxDOT asks for more power, as they might get a good spanking instead:
The agency also wants to be able to suspend drivers' licenses and deny vehicle registrations when people fail to pay tolls and related fines, and give the same power to companies operating tollways for the state.
The line is drawn:
"Carona has other ideas, especially when it comes to eliminating caps on how long concession contracts can last.

"They're dreaming," the senator said. "Under no circumstances will that be allowed to happen. We should be doing, in fact, the reverse."

With concern brewing across the state, Carona scheduled a March 1 hearing to air out how tolls are being implemented.

He also filed SB 149 to stop TxDOT from including non-compete agreements in toll contracts, which restrict improvements to free roads, and another bill to index the gas tax to rising construction costs.

SB 165 covers the combined 38.4-cent a gallon state and federal taxes, but the increases for both would be added to the state portion. Borrowing on the proceeds would cover state transportation needs through 2030, a recent Governor's Business Council study says.

"Of all the options out there, this is the least painful," Carona said. "Most painful is the proliferation of toll roads.""

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