Thursday, March 01, 2007

"We want a do-over!"

Hundreds demand toll road project's repeal

Mar. 01, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Hundreds of Texans from various backgrounds – county commissioners, environmentalists and farmers – packed a legislative meeting Thursday and demanded that state laws allowing the Trans-Texas Corridor toll road be repealed.

"We want a do-over!" one south Texas woman testified.

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security plans to take nearly 10 hours of testimony Thursday.

The anti-toll road sentiment is even shared by legislators who supported changes in state law in 2003 that allowed the Texas Department of Transportation to use tolls and private financing to build roads.

"There are many legislators that would like a do-over as well,"said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, the committee chairman.

More than 100 people have signed up to testify.

The toll backlash could have ramifications for several Tarrant County freeways, including Interstate 35W, Loop 820 and Airport Freeway, which Metroplex leaders are planning to expand with toll lanes.

Several speakers Thursday morning were critical of Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson of Weatherford, a close friend of Gov. Rick Perry. The two men are the state's chief advocates of using toll financing to make up for a lack of gas tax dollars.

"Chairman Williamson scared this Legislature and the public with an $84 billion shortfall. We now know that's not the case. There's been some cooking of the books to come up with a shortfall," said Dallas County Commissioner Ken Mayfield. "This does not ensure the safest, most reliable toll road will be built, in the most efficient manner."

Dennis Enright, who testified as an expert in public-private partnerships, said that while private financing is commonly used in third-world countries to build roads, "My recommendation is to find out what can be done by the public sector, and if it can be done, it's a vital public asset."

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

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