Friday, January 13, 2006

"TxDOT is saying, 'We're going to cut your funds if you don't create a regional mobility authority.' "

Council committee studies toll road plan

Friday, January 13, 2006

David Crowder
El Paso Times
Copyright 2006

A City Council committee today will consider a recommendation to establish a road-tolling regional mobility authority in El Paso.

Some say an authority is the city's only hope of getting big transportation projects done, but others call it a new way to shift taxes from the state to local communities.

At a 9 a.m. meeting today in City Council chambers on City Hall's second floor, the council's Transportation Legislative Review Committee will hear and possibly act on the recommendation from the mayor's Transportation Cabinet to initiate the establishment of the authority.

"We're saying it's time for community to take control of its destiny and be able to accelerate projects that have been needed for years," said Veronica Callaghan, chairwoman of the mayor's Transportation Cabinet. "By having the city form a regional mobility authority, it then has ability to go get financing from bond market, to construct and to operate and maintain projects it chooses to build."

Callaghan is a member of the Paso del Norte Group, a private business organization working on a Downtown development plan, that has recommended establishing an authority.

But state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said financing various big-ticket transportation projects with new road tolls would be as regressive as raising sales taxes to pay for state services.

Once a strong ally of the the Texas Department of Transportation, Pickett now contends that the department is walking away from its responsibility to build and maintain new roads in highways.

"TxDOT is saying it's no roads or toll roads. That's their mantra," he said. "And they're saying, 'We're going to cut your funds if you don't create a regional mobility authority.' "

The City Council's Transportation Legislative Review Committee is led by Northeast city Rep. Melina Castro and includes West Side city Rep. Ann Lilly, South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke and Eastridge/Mid-Valley city Rep. Steve Ortega.

David Crowder may be reached at; 546-6194

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© 2006 El Paso Times