Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Fuse has been lit

Fireworks ahead

Feb. 28, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Things have been testy between Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson of Weatherford and state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

Their clashing transportation funding philosophies will be a hot topic in Austin when Carona's committee holds an 8:30 a.m. public hearing Thursday on toll roads, the Trans-Texas Corridor and public-private partnerships. The hearing in the Extension Auditorium at the Texas Capitol could go until 6 p.m. to allow as many speakers -- each gets three minutes -- as possible.

(Witness forms also are available on the committee Web site at or by phone at 512-463-0067. A live webcast of the hearing can be accessed via

In January, Carona said Gov. Rick Perry should replace longtime friend Williamson as leader of the commission that oversees the Texas Department of Transportation. Carona, a critic of Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan, said Williamson's "abrasiveness" and unyielding commitment to toll roads "has worn out his welcome in many communities across the state," according to a Jan. 19 article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Carona favors raising the state's 20-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax to help pay road construction costs. He is critical of Williamson's support for agreements with private companies such as Spain-based Cintra to finance and build major toll roads. Carona contends that such agreements could result in motorists paying higher tolls than if government agencies were financing and operating the toll roads.

Williamson says his approach build badly needed roads sooner.

Although the Star-Telegram Editorial Board favors construction of toll roads for some projects, members also believe that a substantial increase in the state gas tax is necessary to boost transportation funding. That issue and others important to Texas' transportation future are likely to be aired at Thursday's hearing.

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