Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Texas Legislators try to place limits on Trans-Texas Corridor

Legislators seek to put limits on corridor

Local lawmaker urges moratorium on funding and a study of toll and bond financing

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

State Rep. Garnet Coleman has filed a bill seeking to bar the state from spending money on the Trans -Texas Corridor until 2007 and calling for a committee to study the corridor plan and its use of toll and bond financing.

The Houston Democrat's bill, HB 3363, would place the same moratorium on tolling currently free roads. It was one of four bills - the others filed by Republicans - that seek to limit the controversial corridor plan proposed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2002.

The Texas Department of Transportation is negotiating a 50-year contract with Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-led group of companies, to build the first leg of the corridor parallel to Interstate 35 from Oklahoma to Mexico.

The company proposes to start with a $6 billion toll road from Dallas to San Antonio, paying the state $1.2 billion and keeping other profits. Toll road extensions, rail and utility lines could come later.

HB 1273, which was filed by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, bars "noncompetition" clauses in contracts between the state and corridor developers that would prevent government from building roads nearby.

The bill would narrow the corridor 's maximum width from 1,200 feet to 800 feet and require that state highways and farm-to-market roads intersecting it remain unobstructed and connect to it. It also would bar developers from being granted exclusive right to operate service stations and restaurants on the corridor . A Cintra-Zachry spokesman said the company is not interested in doing that.

HB 1794 by Rep. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, calls for at least one public hearing in every county through which the corridor passes, with public disclosure of each of its proposed transportation modes, entrances and exits.

HB 3419 by Rep. Rick Hardcastle, R-Vernon, would prohibit drilling for water in the corridor , compensate landowners for having their properties divided, and provide that land condemned for the corridor and unused for five years could be repurchased by the original owner at the same price.

Kolkhorst's bill was filed Feb. 21 and the others on March 11, the session's filing deadline.

Coleman acknowledged it will be difficult to get his bill out of the Transportation Committee but said he hopes to bring it to a floor vote as a rider.

Kolkhorst said she applauds Perry for "thinking big" about transportation but that she wants to ensure long-term corridor agreements include "safeguards" for future generations.

TxDOT spokeswoman Gaby Garcia declined to comment. She said current corridor plans are based on legislation approved in the previous session and that the department will continue to follow the Legislature's wishes.

Houston Chronicle: