Thursday, May 17, 2007

Latest 'moratorium' includes 'more' exemptions

House debates toll road moratorium compromise bill

May 17, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Facing prospects of a special legislative session, the Texas House overwhelmingly approved a transportation bill Thursday aimed at pleasing Gov. Rick Perry and stopping him from forcing lawmakers to work overtime.

The bill is one of the last sticking points of the five-month legislative session, which ends May 28. It still must return to the Senate for final approval before it can head to Perry.

The measure, given final House approval in a 143-2 vote, is intended to be similar to one lawmakers already sent to Perry that he objected to and said legislators needed to rework. He threatened to call them back for a special session if they didn't do it right away.

That initial legislation placed a two-year moratorium on most new privately financed toll road projects. The "new and revised" version of the bill, as House sponsor Rep. Wayne Smith calls it, also includes a moratorium, with some exemptions.

"The citizens want to take a look at how we've been doing private entity toll roads ... and take a look at that and make sure that's the right direction to go," said Smith, R-Baytown.

Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, a Brenham Republican, said she feels comfortable that the spirit of the legislation remains the same, with the moratorium in place, though she said it's even stronger because of some tweaks to the legislation by the House on Thursday.

Grassroots questioning of the state's "grandiose" transportation plans helped in passage of the measure, she said.

"They're listening to the people out there," Koklhorst said of her legislative colleagues.

Though Perry spoke out weeks ago against a moratorium on private toll projects — and toll roads are a cornerstone of his Trans-Texas Corridor superhighway — he said that wasn't his main objection to the first bill.

Perry said he didn't like parts of the proposal that he said would allow local communities to place liens on Texas rights of way, preventing bonds from being issued for building roads there. He said the measure also put regional projects in jeopardy and cut some local governments out of funding.

It also tightened controls on comprehensive development agreements, used in contracts for private-public road-building, reducing their maximum duration from 70 years to 40 years and allowing the state to buy back a project.

The compromise bill would still tighten controls on comprehensive development agreements, but the agreements could last up to 50 years.

The updated legislation also would provide more exemptions to the toll road moratorium. One of those exempted projects is the development of the Interstate 69 corridor in the Rio Grande Valley.


The original transportation bill is HB1892. The compromise bill is SB792.

© 2007 Houston Chronicle:

To search TTC News Archives click HERE