Saturday, August 06, 2005

Ric Williamson praises Tom DeLay, other members of congress for promoting private toll roads

Texas makes substantial gains in federal highway bill

By TxDOT media release

© Copyright 2002-2005 by North Texas e-News, llc

AUSTIN - TxDOT officials praised the hard work and results obtained by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the Texas U.S. House delegation, and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) in crafting the next generation transportation bill.

The final version of HR 3 entitled, "Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users" (SAFETEA-LU) has passed the House with Senate action expected soon.

"Texas scored some impressive victories in SAFETEA-LU that add horsepower to the new transportation programs Governor Perry and the Texas Legislature have put into law. The delegation worked tirelessly for increased Texas transportation funding and flexibility," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission.

SAFETEA-LU reauthorizes $286 billion through fiscal year 2009 for the Federal-aid Highway Program, surface transportation research, highway safety and transit programs.

"This bill took a long time to complete, but it was worth the wait. I commend the Texas House delegation and Chairman Inhofe for their hard work and tremendous efforts to achieve the best possible outcome," said Williamson. "It was truly a team effort to change how this nation builds its infrastructure. The more other states analyze this measure, the more they will realize how many more opportunities they will have."

In particular, Williamson said, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay led the overall Texas effort, concentrating on better funding formulas, a task that some considered impossible because the legislation contained no new funding sources.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas's senior member on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, worked overtime to protect the state's planning, transit and tolling interests, he noted. Congressman Michael Burgess started the flexibility debate in earnest by proposing a package of bills and amendments that allowed better design-build procurement, created a speedier environmental review process, and rewarded states that build toll roads with Transportation Development Credits.

In addition, Williamson continued, Burgess led the way in rewriting existing border and corridor programs so they actually work for Texas and other border states. Congressman Sam Johnson delivered the Private Activity Bond Program, allowing states to add substantial private capital to their infrastructure programs through tax-exempt debt.

On the Senate side, Williamson said, Environment and Public Works Chairman Inhofe worked closely with Governor Perry as the Senate added provisions that permit more choices through new tolling programs, enhanced design-build procurement, funding flexibility, and allowing states the power to make more decisions.

Major wins for Texas transportation include (all figures are estimates and subject to final confirmation):

* By 2008, an increased rate of return to Texas motorists on their gas tax dollars to 92 percent, up from the current 90.5 percent. Texas now receives an average of $2.1 billion per year from gas taxes it sends to Washington; HR 3 raises that to $2.9 billion per year (excluding earmarks), a 37.4 percent increase accomplished through a combination of a better formula and growth in gas taxes

* 220 project earmarks totaling $669 million for highway and transit projects throughout Texas

* Authorization of a new $15 billion Private Activity Bond program for intermodal transportation facilities that would encourage private sector investments and partnerships, especially involving the Trans-Texas Corridor

* Additional options to toll new federal roadways to relieve congestion and deliver projects faster

* Increased options in the use of Transportation Development Credits to assist local communities to meet their federal road and transit match requirements

* Selection of Texas as one of five pilot states to assume specific Federal Highway Administration responsibilities to oversee compliance of the National Environmental Policy Act

* Instructions to the Secretary of Transportation to allow states to have broader authority to experiment with design-build method of project delivery

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