"If the moratorium passes quickly in the Senate it would have enough backing to squelch a Perry veto."
Legislation would slow down work on Trans-Texas Corridor
April 12, 2007
BY GABE SEMENZA
The Victoria Advocate
Russell Pruitt supports a proposed two-year moratorium on private toll roads that won preliminary approval in the Texas House on Tuesday, but he said, "It still doesn't kill what's coming down."
Pruitt, a Victoria opponent of the Trans-Texas Corridor, isn't optimistic that a moratorium will pass approval in the Texas Senate, but he said if it does, it could give he and other critics more time to inform people about what he thinks are the project's pitfalls.
The moratorium would slow down the controversial corridor - a 4,000-mile superhighway and network of toll roads, rail lines and utilities - and allow more time for research into its impacts. Earlier this year, a Spanish company was awarded a contract to build and maintain the project.
Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who added this proposal to House Bill 1892, said the moratorium - which would also freeze seven other near-term state toll projects - should include the formation of a state-created commission to study the effects of private equity toll roads.
Because the Trans-Texas Corridor contract with that foreign company would last 50-plus years, Kolkhorst said she thinks it wise to look "before we leap" into long-term agreements of this nature.
"This was a very good day for all of us that believe Texans should own and operate our highways and keep the money working for Texans, rather than being siphoned off by investors from Spain," she said in a release upon learning about the preliminary House approval.
But critics of the moratorium argue that without private tolls, the state would need to increase the gas tax to pay for roads.
"However well-intentioned, the moratorium adopted by the House would eliminate an enormous pool of non-tax money to address traffic and transportation needs," said Joe Krier, chairman of Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation, to The Associated Press. "Fewer transportation dollars mean fewer transportation alternatives, and more traffic gridlock."
The contract with Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry is estimated to be worth $184 billion.
Gov. Rick Perry, who has long championed the Trans-Texas Corridor, has urged the Senate to reject the moratorium.
"There are no such things as freeways," he said in a statement last week. "There are taxways and tollways, and for 50 years, we have tried taxways that have been underfunded by Austin and Washington and that have left local communities choking on pollution and brimming with congestion."
Chris Steinach, Kolkhorst's chief of staff, said in a telephone conversation Wednesday that if the proposal passes quickly in the Senate - with more than two-thirds of members in support - it would have enough backing to squelch a Perry veto.
"Now, all our eyes are on the Senate," Steinbach said.
Paul Frerich, the director of planning and development for the Yoakum district of the Texas Department of Transportation, said he couldn't comment on whether he believes the moratorium is a good or bad idea.
"Well, we will follow the rules and guidelines set forth by the legislature," he said. "If it's passed, we'll follow it."
The moratorium passed in the House by a 134-5 margin.
Pruitt, meanwhile, said he has hope this is a sign of things, and toll roads, not to come.
"The corridor is selling Texas," the critic said. "It's taking Texas land and giving work to foreigners."
Gabe Semenza is a reporter for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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