Saturday, May 31, 2008

"The Minute Order offers nothing new and does not offer any real reforms or serious changes from the current atmosphere."

Kolkhorst: ‘Wait, see’ on TxDOT

May 31, 2008

The Brenham Banner-Press
Copyright 2008

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst has taken a “wait and see” attitude on the Texas Transportation Commission’s vote on policies on the development, construction and operation of toll road projects on the state highway system and the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) is an adamant opponent of the Trans Texas Corridor, a mammoth toll road being proposed by Gov. Rick Perry. One proposed route would bring a segment of the controversial roadway through western Washington County.

The commission’s unanimous vote “reaffirms policies and the requirements of state law regarding toll projects, particularly involving the use of comprehensive development agreements (CDA),” according to a press release issued by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

“The commission’s action today reflects the comments we have received from Texas drivers, legislators and members of our citizen advisory committees,” said commission chairwoman Deirdre Delisi. “Texans deserve a clear, straightforward explanation of what we are doing to solve our transportation challenges and how we are doing it.”

The commission is a five-member board appointed by the governor to oversee TxDOT, which has come under heavy public criticism.

Kolkhorst said Friday that “we should welcome any effort by TxDOT to address the concerns so many Texans have about the Trans-Texas Corridor.

“What I hope to be hearing from TxDOT is that they’re willing to change. The minute order that was passed this week offers nothing new and does not offer any real reforms or serious changes from the current atmosphere.

“It was merely a repackaging of familiar statements that are already in state law.

“I’m glad to see that the new TxDOT leadership is reaching out, but it’s time to roll up our sleeves and talk about real reforms to address the public outrage over the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

The commission said it reaffirmed its commitment to meet or exceed the requirements of state law on five key issues:
  • All state highway facilities, including the Trans-Texas Corridor, will be completely owned by the state at all times.
  • All CDAs will include provisions that allow TxDOT to purchase or “buy back” the interest of a private developer in a CDA at any time if buying back the project would be in the best financial interest of the state.
  • The commission shall approve, in a public meeting, the initial toll rates charged for the use of a toll project on the state highway system and the methodology for increasing the amount of tolls. All rate-setting actions will come after consultation with appropriate local metropolitan planning organizations.
  • Only new lanes added to an existing highway will be tolled, and there will be no reduction in the number of non-tolled lanes that exist today.
  • Comprehensive development agreements will not include “non-compete” clauses that would prohibit improvements to existing roadways. The department and any governmental entity can construct, reconstruct, expand, rehabilitate or maintain any roadway that is near or intersects with any roadway under the CDA.
The commission also affirmed two additional principles: that TxDOT will always consider the use of existing right of way that satisfies the purpose and need of the project as a possible project location when conducting environmental studies; and yo the extent practical, TxDOT will plan and design facilities so that a landowner’s property is not severed into two or more separate tracts and the original shape of the property is preserved.

“These principles will help guide TxDOT as we work to improve our state’s traffic congestion and air quality problems,” said Delisi. “The Texas Legislature shares our commitment to improving highway safety and creating economic opportunity, and they expect us to meet these goals in keeping with our state’s tradition of protecting the rights of property owners.”

Delisi said that the Trans-Texas Corridor implementation plan should be updated to reflect changes in the state’s transportation challenges since it was first released in June 2002.

TxDOT deputy executive director Steve Simmons reported to the commission that input for the principles included more than 27,000 comments received during the public involvement process on the East Texas segment of TTC.

© 2008 The Brenham Banner-Press

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