Wednesday, May 09, 2007

"Legislature plans to scuttle a sweeping transportation measure considered destined for a veto and send the governor a new bill more to his liking."

Lawmakers race to rework transportation measure


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — Under threat of a special session this summer, a key lawmaker said Wednesday that the Legislature plans to scuttle a sweeping transportation measure considered destined for a veto and send the governor a new bill more to his liking.

“I’m not canceling my vacation plans just yet,” said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who chairs the Senate’s committee on transportation and homeland security.

Two well-placed sources said earlier in the day that Perry would call lawmakers back to Austin unless they undo an element in House Bill 1892 that could cost Tarrant County and other areas tens of millions of dollars for road construction projections.

That feature would undermine plans by local officials in North Texas to spread those dollars all over the region in an effort to ease ever-growing urban and suburban traffic congestion. At risk would be such planned projects as the North Tarrant Express and the western link of Texas 121.

Carona said lawmakers who had worked on the already passed transportation have already begun crafting a new measure that would make sure that those endangered projects could receive the funding needed to build them.

Then both chambers would, in effect, recall the bill from Perry’s desk and send him the retooled version.

House Bill 1892 is a far-reaching transportation package that would put a moratorium on many new toll road projects but was designed to leave largely untouched several planned toll roads in North Texas. The bill has been considered a likely veto target for Perry. But because HB 1892 passed by large margins in both the House and Senate, a veto override would be considered likely.

Michael Behrens, the executive director of the transportation department, has said in a letter to a North Texas lawmaker that the bill would likely force officials to renegotiate several planned toll road agreements with the private Spanish company that plans to build and maintain them for 50 years.

Under plans expected to be finalized next month, the Spanish company would pay the state several billion dollars over 50 years to build and operate Texas 121 as a toll road in Collin County. North Texas officials, who negotiated the deal, plan to use millions of those dollars to build projects all over the region.

But Behrens said is his letter that because that project is in the transportation commission’s Dallas district, all money generated from the toll road agreement would have to stay in the Dallas district.

“As a result, these projects in the Fort Worth will be placed on hold until other funding can be identified,” Behrens said.

Carona said the Legislature is unlikely to back down on imposing a two-year moratorium on privately built and privately maintained new toll roads.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, a Williamson County Republican and Perry ally who chairs the House Transportation Committee, said he expects a special session if the governor’s concerns are not fixed before lawmakers adjourn May 28.

"I think he’ll call us back," Krusee said.

Backers of the legislation have expressed skepticism that Behren’s scenario will play out as he described

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