Friday, May 11, 2007

The TxDOT-FHA 'Threat Down'

Will HB 1892 jeopardize federal highway funding for Texas?


by Christine DeLoma
Volume 11, Issue 37
The Lone Star Report
Copyright 2007

The recently passed HB 1892 – the private toll road moratorium – will not jeopardize the state’s ability to receive federal transportation dollars, according to U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters.

Peters wrote May 9 to notify Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison the bill “can be implemented in a manner consistent with federal law” and “would not affect the State’s eligibility for funding under the Federal-aid highway program.”

Hutchison wrote Federal Highway Administrator Richard Capka May 1 about her concerns over the agency’s taking a position on state legislation that would affect Texas transportation policy.

FHA’s general counsel had written lawmakers the day before the vote on HB 1892, warning some of its provisions could reduce federal funding.

Gov. Rick Perry and Michael Behrens, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, similarly warned that passage of the bill could compromise funding for transportation projects.

“I am very concerned that recent letters from the Federal Highway Administration have placed a cloud over current actions being taken in the Texas Legislature,” wrote Hutchison. “While I am sure that was not the intent, I believe it is imperative that the Federal Highway Administration takes steps to remove that impression.”

Although federal funding is no longer in question, Perry still has problems with language in the bill that, among other things, gives local tollway authorities state rights of way and primacy over road projects.

Perry confirmed rumors May 9 that he stands ready to call lawmakers into special session over the summer if “fixes” are not made to HB 1892, the private toll road moratorium bill.

“The good news is, we still have time to fix it,” Perry said. “If not, I have no other option as the leader of this state but to bring the Legislature back to address these issues and then get Texas back to where it can have a vibrant transportation infrastructure system.”

Perry said there are two options for lawmakers: recall HB 1892 (which is on his desk) and fix it or pass SB 1267 by Sen. Robert Nichols, a cleaner version of the private toll road moratorium. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Sens. John Carona (R-Dallas) and Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) have been negotiating with the governor’s office for over a week on a compromise solution.

“The governor’s going to do what the governor’s going to do,” Dewhurst said. Nonetheless, he said he believes progress is being made.

“The members of the Legislature want to see a two-year moratorium without slowing down the projects on the books right now,” Dewhurst said. Lawmakers also want to see changes in the way comprehensive development agreements (CDA) are designed. Issues giving lawmakers heartburn, he said, include: length of the contracts and unfair buyback provisions.

Perry indicated that he would sign the Nichols bill in its current form. However, SB 1267 does not include many of the CDA reforms dealing with length of contracts, non-compete clauses, buyback provisions and setting of toll rates that are in HB 1892.

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