Out of Control Policy Blog

The latest on transportation funding in Texas

A June 5th Bond Buyer article gives a great overview of the current state of affairs in TX transportation funding, after a rollercoaster legislative session that included a "swiss cheese," 2-year moratorium on comprehensive development agreements (the Texas term for long-term toll road concessions), an aggressive power play by the two major regional/local public toll authorities (the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Harris County Toll Road Authority), a bizarre bill to establish a gas tax holiday, failed proposals to raise and index the gas tax, and the Governor's veto of a far more draconian and ill-advised moratorium bill.

In the Bond Buyer piece, Sen. Carona, chair of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, discusses the "compromise" moratorium bill (SB 792, not yet signed by Gov. Perry):

In its final form, SB 792 left TxDOT "whole," while allowing public toll-road authorities first shot at toll projects, but leaving room for private concessions from foreign firms such as Cintra, Carona said.

"We did not do anything harmful to transportation," Carona said. "The moratorium, in my opinion, does not have any effect in the urban areas."

The bill does create a competition between TxDOT and authorities such as the NTTA to develop toll projects, Carona acknowledged.

"Each has a gun to the other's head, and the result is that we're going to get more roads built," he said.

The reason Carona claims the moratorium would "not have any effect in the urban areas" is that it exempts roughly a dozen toll projects already in the pipeline. So it's not really a moratorium then, is it? Gov. Perry's office certainly isn't seeing it that way:

Now that legislators have gone home and trumpeted how they passed a bill to freeze private financing of toll roads, the governor's office has some bubble-busting news.

There isn't much of a moratorium in Senate Bill 792.

"Of any kind, that we can tell," said Robert Black, spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry. "Unless there was something screwy that happened."

Actually, there were plenty of screwy machinations in the Legislature as lawmakers hammered out bills to rein in tolling powers of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Slapping a two-year moratorium on privatization contracts started out simple. But skittish lawmakers carved out exceptions in their backyards, and Perry fought to keep a loophole for his cherished multibillion-dollar cross-state network called the Trans-Texas Corridor.

By the time the plotting and jawboning ended a week ago, nearly every toll road project in line for a concession contract with a private developer had been exempted from the ban.

"The governor didn't appreciate the hypocrisy of it," Black said. "These guys were going to run around and say we did a two-year moratorium, when in fact they didn't."

You can expect more from Reason on the altered landscape for tolling in Texas, but in the meantime, be sure to check out our recent related work:

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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