Friday, May 11, 2007

Dewhurst : Officials 'are overreacting' in their opposition to HB 1882.

Perry urged to veto toll road moratorium bill


Gary Scharrer, Austin bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Several county judges expressed support Friday for Gov. Rick Perry's plan to veto a controversial transportation bill, although everyone agrees that ongoing negotiations remain on track to avoid a confrontation with the Legislature.

Community leaders in Denton and Polk counties contend that House Bill 1892 could jeopardize Texas 121 and the Interstate 69 project.

The legislation imposes a two-year moratorium on building more private toll roads. It also places restrictions on contracts with private toll road companies, in addition to giving more power to local transportation authorities over toll projects. Perry objects strongly to decentralizing transportation matters and diluting the power of the Texas Department of Transportation.

Polk County Judge John Thompson, chairman of the 34-county I-69 Alliance Texas, said the bill "won't be built with traditional funding sources. Without private investment, I-69 will not become a reality."

Perry has until Wednesday to veto the bill, which he has promised to do unless lawmakers negotiate a compromise.

An agreement, expected by early next week, must include a moratorium on private toll roads, said Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, author of HB 1892.

"And there has to be a situation in which the Harris County Toll Road Authority can proceed immediately to build new projects," Smith said about some stalled Houston highway projects. "We just can't wait any longer in Harris County for our mobility issues."

The moratorium calls for a nine-member committee to study transportation issues and private toll roads. Most lawmakers object to lucrative contracts with foreign-owned toll road companies, Smith said.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said local officials "are overreacting" in their opposition to the bill.

"We're not against public-private partnerships. We just want to put safeguards in place so that we know at the end of the day that we get roads built — but that the people who use those roads are going to pay fair tolls," Dewhurst said.

Legislative leaders said they are close in reaching an agreement.

Without an agreement, a Perry veto could trigger the Legislature to override the governor in a power clash that has not happened since lawmakers voted to override a veto by Gov. Bill Clements in 1979.

Perry has warned lawmakers that he would call them back into a special session this summer if there is no agreement.

"He can call us, but we don't have to come," said Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio.

© 2007 San Antonio Express-News:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE