Saturday, January 10, 2004

Ric Williamson is appointed chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission

Transportation boss named

January 9, 2004

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2004

A Weatherford man who champions Gov. Rick Perry's plans for high-speed rail and toll roads has been appointed chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

Ric Williamson will serve indefinitely as chairman of the commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation.

As chairman, Williamson will lead a commission that has the final say in how the state spends billions of dollars a year in highway money.

He replaces John Johnson of Houston, who has been chairman since 2000.

Perry was happy with Johnson's work but wanted to put his own appointee into the chairmanship, said Perry's spokesman, Gene Acuna. Johnson was first appointed to the commission in 1999 by Gov. George W. Bush, whereas Williamson was named to the commission by Perry in 2001.

"Mr. Williamson understands and shares the same beliefs as the governor that a strong infrastructure for Texas will benefit the entire state economically down the road," Acuna said. "It benefits the people already in the state but it also attracts new businesses in the years ahead and creates new jobs."

Williamson doesn't expect the change to create any tension among commissioners.

"John is an honorable guy and has done the governor an honorable job," Williamson said of Johnson. "John is entering his last year of service, and I really think the governor is going to start rotating chairs on a lot of agencies."

Although he is stepping down as chairman, Johnson said he will remain on the commission until early 2005.

"Governor Perry has been generous in allowing me to remain as chair," Johnson said. "For all these things, there's an appropriate time. Ric has a very fertile and creative mind. He's a good communicator. I'm sure we'll try a few new things. You're going to see a lot of results."

Williamson will be the first commission chairman from the Metroplex since David Laney of Dallas left the position, which pays about $16,000 a year, in 2001.

Williamson takes the helm at a transitional time for the three-member commission, which also includes Robert Nichols of Jacksonville. Nichols has served since 1997.

The Legislature voted last year to expand the commission to five members.

Hope Andrade of San Antonio and Ted Houghton of El Paso were nominated by Perry and are expected to take office in the next month or two.

Williamson said his goal will be to forge transportation policies that all five members can agree on.

"It will be collegial. It will be by 5-0 agreement," he said. "We don't do things split. We don't fuss and fight. If one member feels strongly, the other members yield. It's the most team-oriented organization I've been a part of."

Other goals for the year include:

* Pressing forward with Perry's Trans Texas Corridor plan to build a network of high-speed rail lines and toll roads connecting the state's regions. A contract for the first component of that plan, an Interstate 35 reliever route connecting the border with the Dallas-Fort Worth area, is expected to be awarded this year.

* Encouraging metropolitan areas to seize control of their own highway funds and build freeways as they see fit to relieve congestion. The state's eight largest metro areas are being strongly encouraged to consider building toll roads to generate more money for highways.

"The governor wants us to focus on transportation infrastructure for the next 100 years, not the past 20 years," Williamson said. "We have the ability to see what we need for 50 to 100 years now. With the governor's vision, it takes someone having the tools, and the will, to carry that out."

ONLINE: Texas Transportation Commission:

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: