Thursday, May 29, 2003

House Bill 3358 Approved

Senators unanimously approve landmark transportation bill

May 29, 2003

KAREN BROOKS, Staff Writer
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2003

AUSTIN--Legislation changing the way Texas pays for highways and transportation projects won unanimous approval in the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill, touted as the largest transportation bill in the history of Texas , continues the North Texas Tollway Authority and draws up to $1 billion into highway projects through bonds.

The bill's author in the Texas House, however, slammed the Senate version and said he will call a conference committee to work out the differences.

House Bill 3358, by Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, establishes guidelines for the 4,000-mile, $175 billion Trans Texas Corridor Plan, Gov. Rick Perry's vision for creating a separate network of corridors that would approximately parallel existing interstate highways.

Under the bill, the transportation commission could appropriate up to 20 percent of the state's highway reimbursements from Washington, levy tolls and other user fees, accept donations and private investments, collect money from motorists who get excessive tickets, tap the Texas Mobility Fund and issue debt.

The corridor plan is described as the most ambitious surface-transportation proposal ever in Texas and the most sweeping in the nation since the Eisenhower-era creation of the interstate highway system.

And it creates a Driver Responsibility Act that would use fines paid by drunken drivers and drivers with multiple violations to fund transportation projects and help overburdened trauma centers.

Krusee, who described the highway system as "overloaded and on the brink of collapse," said the House version of the bill is a solution to that crisis. He said the Senate bill, however, would "emasculate" the regional mobility authorities created in 2001, and he vowed to take it to a conference committee.

The bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, said there are "probably hundreds" of differences between the two chambers in the 148-page legislation.

The bill would create the Driver Responsibility Act, which would establish a point system in which drivers would be penalized $300 for racking up multiple traffic violations. An amendment by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, requires the Legislature to review that system in 2007.

The act is one of two sources of revenue in the legislation. The other source is a $30 increase in fines for speeding tickets.

Staff Writer Gordon Dickson Contributed to This Report.

Karen Brooks, (512) 476-4294

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