Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"Many provisions in recent toll contracts are alarming."

Bills in Texas would disrupt toll road privatization


Associated Press
Copyright 2007

State Sen. Robert Nichols, who supported toll road plans when he was on the Texas Transportation Commission just two years ago, says it's time to take a closer look.

The Jacksonville Republican filed a bill Tuesday that would slap a two-year moratorium on privatization of toll roads, including those in the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The bill calls for setting up a group to study the long-term impact of the state enlisting private corporations to build and operate toll roads in exchange for collecting profits. The group would be appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker.

Nichols, who stepped down from the Transportation Commission in 2005 to run for the Senate, isn't alone. Twenty-five of the Senate's 31 members are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 1267, including several from Bexar County.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed an identical bill in the House.

"We must closely evaluate private toll contracts before we sign away half a century of control of our transportation system," Nichols said. "Many provisions in recent toll contracts are alarming."

Nichols said he'd like to ban agreements that restrict construction of state roads when they compete with tollways and enact safeguards for reasonable toll rates and predictable buy-back costs of toll leases.

He filed a separate bill to outlaw any conversion of an existing free lane to a toll lane, regardless of whether local voters sign off on such a switch.

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