Friday, February 01, 2008

Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee to examine how the state should fund its roads.

Transportation a Hot Topic in Interim Charges

Feb 1, 2008

by Christine DeLoma
Volume 12, Issue 23
The Lone Star Report
Copyright t2008

Among the big issues for lawmaker scrutiny this year is transportation policy, as implemented by the Texas Department of Transportation.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst issued interim charges Jan. 30 to the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee to examine how the state should fund its roads. A few of the related issues:

TxDOT’s finances. For months now, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has been telling everyone it hasn’t the money to spend on new projects, and that such money as it does have will barely cover maintenance.

The Transportation and Homeland Security committee and the Senate Finance committee will look at “state and local options for expanding transportation funding.” It will also examine Fund 6, the Highway Fund, and recommend ways to reduce the nearly $1.5 billion in diversions from the fund.

In addition, both committees will take a microscope to TxDOT’s spending habits. The agency has been criticized for hiring lobbyists and spending money on Gov. Rick Perry’s pollster Mike Baselice for conducting polling for the agency.

Dewhurst’s joint interim charge instructs the committee and the Senate Finance committee to study whether TxDOT “is in compliance with Transportation Code 201.109, Revenue Enhancement, and whether the Texas Department of Transportation is using the funding sources provided by the Legislature, including, but not limited to, General Obligation, Fund 6 and Mobility Fund bonds, to build new roads.”

The committee, chaired by Sen. John Carona (R-Dallas), is scheduled to hold a joint public hearing Tues., Feb. 5 on the matter.

TxDOT ad campaign. The agency has also been criticized for spending up to $9 million on an advertising campaign extolling the virtues of toll roads. It will also determine how much TxDOT spends on media related activities and develop guidelines “to ensure appropriate use of state funds to provide legitimate public education.”

CDAs. After TxDOT signed a comprehensive development agreement (CDA) with a private developer to build a portion of private toll road, the Legislature decided to put the brakes on future planned CDAs. The concern was over details in the contract. It was 50 years in length, contained non-compete provisions, costly buyback provisions and was negotiated in secret. Consequently, the Legislature passed a two-year moratorium on many new CDAs.

The committee is charged with studying the implications of shortening a CDA’s maximum allowable contract duration, changing the buyback formula, requiring TxDOT to solicit CDAs after federal environmental clearance for a project has been granted, and studying provisions that affect competing facilities.

Toll roads – public and private. The committee will examine all current and planned toll road projects in the state and the use of the new market valuation tool created in SB 792. The committee will consider lengthening the number of years a toll road authority may issue bonds. The interim charge also instructs the committee to study public-private partnerships to build new toll roads.

Trans-Texas Corridor. The committee is to study how to improve the pubic input process in the development of the Trans-Texas Corridor.

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