Friday, September 14, 2007

"TxDOT has a history of not being entirely forthcoming about transportation plans."

Campaign for tolls a start, not the end


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2007

After conducting business as though it were a private entity rather than a public trust, the Texas Department of Transportation is now trying to turn the tide of public opinion in its favor.

The Keep Texas Moving campaign is a $7 million to $9 million effort designed to promote various transportation projects in the state.

According to the campaign site,, Texans can learn more about such projects as the vast Trans-Texas Corridor and "its promise for Texas."

Unfortunately, TxDOT has a history of not being entirely forthcoming about transportation plans.

Last year, agency officials and the road-building consortium Cintra-Zachry released 1,600 pages of documents about the scope and cost of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

TxDOT officials had fought to keep that information private, claiming proprietary concerns, for more than a year before an attorney general's opinion compelled them to release it. They then sued to keep the data sealed.

Notably, it was released a month before the November election, in which Gov. Rick Perry was up for re-election.

Had officials not vigorously sought to block access to that information, they might not be facing such strident criticism.

In the meantime, the agency is asking Congress to allow the state to "buy back" federally financed highways so they can potentially be tolled — with local approval — through state partnerships with private companies.

It's clear that Texas needs more money for roads. Toll partnerships, which can provide private, upfront funding, are one way of approaching the problem.

Another is for elected officials to step up and pass a gas tax increase and use it for transportation-related needs rather than letting it be siphoned off for other purposes.

Yet another is for state and local entities to get bold about public transportation initiatives, such as light and commuter rail.

Whatever the funding mechanism, the Texas Department of Transportation needs to do a better job — all the time — of keeping taxpayers informed.

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