Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"Perry needs to realize that his pet project has generated a groundswell of opposition that isn't going away."

Perry needs to stay out of way of toll road moratorium


Our View
The Courier (Montgomery County)
Copyright 2007

Much like the reaction over his ill-considered executive order implementing a vaccine for school girls against a sexually transmitted disease, Perry faces a legislative rebellion regarding his proposed Trans Texas Corridor.

The HPV vaccine executive order was simply a bad idea that needed a legislative burial; the Trans Texas Corridor is an idea that can work, but that needs quite a bit of work, legislatively, to make it truly acceptable for Texans. The Legislature appears on its way to passing legislation that would impose a two-year moratorium on privately funded toll roads, including the Trans Texas Corridor.

The legislation represents an appropriate measure to pause and rethink some of the components of the corridor. Perry needs to recognize the wisdom represented by this legislative opposition and avoid a showdown with lawmakers.

The opposition has coalesced around a few key pieces of legislation, a couple of which have gotten locked up in a committee in the House. However, one bill, House Bill 1892, appears to be on a path for final approval by the Legislature. HB 1892, among other things, includes a two-year moratorium on privately financed toll roads.

The bill imposes other restrictions as well on Perry's proposed corridor project, which envisions a series of super highways bypassing congested metro areas that would convey vehicle, truck and rail traffic along privately financed toll roads. The bill would give counties and local toll authorities more of a voice concerning comprehensive development agreements, or CDAs, that lead to toll projects in their areas.

The CDAs - the corridor project is an example - are a new tool designed to speed up Texas Department of Transportation projects by using a single contract for both the design and construction tasks. Major corporations pay huge sums of money up front for the right to operate toll roads and take that revenue for decades.

Critics fear the current plans for the corridor project are weighted too heavily in favor of the corporations who take on the projects, in effect creating a natural monopoly for the toll projects that could open the door to companies charging exorbitant tolls on drivers who have little if any options. Lawmakers like state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, state Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and state Rep. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe all have supported HB 1892 and its attempts to address the more harmful aspects of the corridor project.

The Trans Texas Corridor is still a good project, in concept, but a little breathing space in the form of a two-year moratorium, plus some reasonable restrictions on the worst aspects of the corridor plan, are necessary in order to rethink this project. Perry needs to realize that his pet project has generated a groundswell of opposition that isn't going away. Rather than forcing a showdown with the Legislature, Perry would do better to just sign this bill and start working with lawmakers to address their concerns.

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