"Whatever happens, the public needs to be more intimately involved in the enterprise than it has been thus far."
May 27, 2007
If anything has approximated unanimity in the 80th Texas Legislature, it is the desire to slow down on toll roads. This has left the state’s biggest proponent of toll roads, Gov. Rick Perry, the odd man out. But he’s still the man with the veto pen.
The House and Senate last week overwhelmingly approved a two-year moratorium on most toll roads, including the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Lawmakers earlier sent a bill to Perry with toll-road restrictions. He vetoed it, and threatened a special session if he didn’t get a bill he could sign.
The bill that emerged reportedly meets his terms. And well it should. It is a reasonable measure that has us, the taxpayers, back to manning the accelerator and brakes on toll roads. Up to now the citizens have been back-seat passengers, and the vehicle has been on cruise control.
The most important component of this bill, aside from the moratorium, is the creation of a legislative study to look at public-private partnerships, with the possibility of new laws next session to curb excesses.
The state was privy to no such legislative study when the Texas Department of Transportation, at Perry’s bidding, set off on this long-distance jaunt.
All the studies were after-the-fact: say, after the state reached an agreement with Spanish firm Cintra to be the main contractor for the Trans-Texas Corridor. Perry went to court to fight the release of information in the deal that Cintra didn’t want to share with the taxpayers.
One of those after-the-fact studies was done by the state auditor. It found that long-term contracts on major toll projects carried excessive costs and mouth-watering profits for the contractors.
One question that remains about toll roads in Texas, and which the next Legislature likely will have to address, concerns the tolls themselves.
Critics assert that the tolls planned for the TTC and other major state toll initiatives will be jacked up to subsidize other projects, rather than priced simply to pay for the pavement beneath the drivers’ wheels. This would make them more like taxes on drivers than tolls to pay for the road at hand.
Texas needs a broad-based way of paying for its highways, such as an inflation-indexed gasoline tax by which motorists who pass through Texas on public thoroughfares pay their fair share.
Whatever happens, the public needs to be more intimately involved in the enterprise than it has been thus far. No matter who builds and operates these highways, they are ours.
© 2007 The Waco Tribune-Herald:
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