Friday, August 12, 2005

Ric Williamson criticized by lawmakers for TxDOT boycott

Lawmakers rap TxDOT for summit snub

Patrick Driscoll, Staff Writer
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

IRVING — Two state lawmakers Thursday criticized the Texas Department of Transportation for boycotting a transportation summit this week — calling it childish and senseless.

TxDOT officials said they blew off the Texas Transportation Summit because TEX-21, a statewide coalition that grew out of the event, isn't open-minded about a proposed toll road that would parallel Interstate 35.

TEX-21 doesn't take positions on specific projects, but it uses the lobbying firm of Dean International, which has helped Dallas and other cities voice concerns about the toll road's potential to divert traffic from I-35.

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, a keynote speaker at the summit last year, instructed TxDOT staff in November to see him before participating in anything that Dean International is connected with.

"It's unfortunate that one individual would act so childish, to boycott a summit that is so important to this state simply because of personal reasons," said Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving.

Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson, a longtime member of the House Transportation Committee, told an audience of about 1,000 at the summit that it doesn't make sense to just stop talking to someone because you disagree with them.

"I enjoy that give and take," Hill said. "We can certainly get along with TxDOT and this organization. We can do that."

The audience, which included government and industry officials from three countries and about 30 states, applauded.

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who had a recent spat with Gov. Rick Perry over her efforts to ban states from tolling existing lanes of federal highways, had less to say about TxDOT shunning the summit.

"I just don't know what their reasons were," she said shortly after addressing the summit's luncheon Thursday. "Maybe they had a good reason."

Meanwhile, TxDOT sent out talking points to its Dallas and Fort Worth offices so officials there can respond to media questions about the agency's decision not to attend.

The talking points said: "Our commission has made it clear that we will not pay Dean International for the opportunity to talk to our friends and local partners," and "We are always available to hear and discuss ways to improve mobility and safety, and you don't have to pay a third party to get our attention."

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