Thursday, May 24, 2007

"Lawmakers remain determined to get a moratorium passed to block development of Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor."

Toll-road pact is still in talks


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN -- Key negotiators were still working Wednesday night to hammer out a compromise version of a toll-road moratorium bill that Gov. Rick Perry won't veto.

Earlier Wednesday, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said a compromise between the House and Senate versions of a transportation bill had been negotiated, but key House members quickly insisted that a deal had not been reached.

The compromise version would require both chambers' approval.

Perry vetoed a toll-road moratorium bill last week, citing concerns that it would cost the state federal funding of transportation projects. Different versions of a second moratorium passed both chambers last week. If Perry were to veto that one, it would likely be after the end of the legislative session and too late for lawmakers to override it.

Perry has threatened to call a special legislative session on transportation if he doesn't receive a bill to his liking.

Meanwhile, lawmakers remain determined to get a moratorium passed to block development of Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor.

House and Senate negotiators were haggling Wednesday over an amendment that Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, added to the House version of the bill. The amendment added a special arrangement called "facilities agreements." Critics say such agreements constitute a huge loophole through which private toll roads could still be built even while under the two-year moratorium.

Early Wednesday, Kolkhorst indicated that she plans to work with Perry to learn his concerns about the amendment.

"I think that if he can give me assurance that TTC 35 won't be built [with facility agreements] before Sept. 1, 2009, I think we can work out a compromise," Kolkhorst said.

Rep. Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, confirmed that the amendment was the main sticking point between the two versions.

Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Keller, has been a leading defender of allowing North Texas toll projects to continue. She said Wednesday that she had spoken with a House negotiator on the toll-road bill and expressed concern that a full ban on facilities agreements could hamper some North Texas projects that had been exempted from the moratorium.

"I would rather see no bill than one that keeps us from continuing with our projects," Truitt said. "We are strangled with traffic."

Perry spokesman Robert Black said the governor will wait to see the final version of the bill before deciding whether he will sign it. Perry would not sign a bill that he believed would paralyze the state's efforts to address its serious transportation problems, Black said.

"We need to build roads," Black said.

Aman Batheja, 512-476-4294

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