Monday, May 14, 2007

Private toll road 'morph-atorium' passes Senate

Texas Lt Gov. works on toll road compromise bill

May 14, 2007

Copyright 2007

NEW YORK- Texas Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst on Monday was working on a compromise on a toll road bill that would halt privatizations for two years but fend off a veto threatened by the governor.

Texas has the nation's biggest road privatization plan, a $50 billion multiyear program that Republican Gov. Rick Perry says is badly needed to keep traffic from choking growth.

But legislators enacted a two-year moratorium by a veto-proof majority after an outcry over what critics said were Perry's overly generous packages that included non-compete clauses and too-small lease payments.

Perry has vowed to veto the measure and call the legislature back into session.

"The lieutenant governor is actively involved in working on a final draft," said Rich Parsons, a spokesman for the Republican lieutenant governor, who runs the state Senate.

The new bill's language was not immediately available. The Senate started debating the compromise measure and Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick said he hoped to vote on the new bill this week.

"I am pleased to hear that there has been an agreement to move forward with transportation policy and I look forward to a compromise bill coming to the House," Craddick said in a statement.

Monday's Austin American Statesman said the Texas Department of Transportation and some legislators had agreed to a series of changes.

Spokesmen for the governor and the Department of Transportation had no immediate comment on the report, which said the new bill would allow privatizations for 50 years.

Texas now lets private companies lease toll roads for as long as 70 years, the report said. The moratorium bill that was approved capped deals at 40 years.

The compromise also would exempt more roads from the moratorium, the newspaper said, including Texas 99, which serves Houston, and a southern section of Interstate 69.

The report added that the new measure would let the state repurchase money-making roads from private developers based on initial forecasts for toll revenues.

This would be a lower price than the law allows. The moratorium bill would have based the repurchase price mainly on how much the company invested in the road, the paper said.

The new measure would also aim to level the playing field by getting a third party to evaluate road privatization deals and let local agencies submit the first bid if they could raise the upfront cash, the paper said.

Other provisions would let Fort Worth share funds from the State Highway 121 project in addition to Dallas. The Harris County Toll Road Authority would have to pay the state what the paper said was the original price for the land needed for new roads, instead of getting it for free.

© 2007 Reuters:

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