Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stall: "The Texas Transportation Commission’s action is as binding as flashy political campaign material.”

Highway commission’s actions on toll roads called ‘meaningless’

May 31, 2008

The Brenham Banner-Press
Copyright 2008

An organization which has been fighting the proposed Trans Texas Corridor says the Texas Transportation Commission’s statements on toll roads is “meaningless arm-waving that provides no new commitment, relief or citizen protection from toll road abuses and the Trans Texas Corridor.”

David Stall, co-founder of the Fayetteville-based CorridorWatch, said the commission’s action is “as binding as flashy political campaign material.”

“The only statement we wholly agree with is chairman (Deirdre) Delisi’s that ‘Texans deserve a clear, straightforward explanation of what we are doing to solve our transportation challenges ...’ We are waiting for that to happen,” said Stall.

“CorridorWatch takes no comfort in today’s action. However, we are always willing to participate in the process and encourage the Transportation Commission and Texas Legislature to make meaningful improvements in transportation planning and implementation.

“Our goal is to ensure that Texans can have improved, safe and reliable transportation systems that are developed through a transparent process and managed in a way that is accountable to the citizens and taxpayers.”

Delisi expressed a desire to build public trust in the transportation agency.

The commissioners adopted an order governing toll projects and the Trans-Texas Corridor and set out to improve citizen and legislative access to TxDOT’s financial data.

“There’s a lot more that we can do ... so that there is the public trust,” Delisi said.

The commission unanimously agreed that all Texas highways will be owned by the state, not private developers; that the state may buy back the interest of a private road developer; that only expansions to existing highways will be tolled and existing free lanes won’t be reduced; and that “non-compete clauses” will be banned, meaning no state contract will limit improvements to nearby existing roads.

The order also calls for an attempt to minimize disturbing private property and to consider using existing rights of way for roads.

The clarifying statement came in response to public criticism during the early planning stages of the Trans Texas Corridor, Perry’s ambitious long-term plan to contract with private companies to build toll roads throughout the state.

Perry rolled out the plan in 2002. Initial phases of the Trans Texas Corridor are a toll highway that would run roughly parallel to part of Interstate 35, and Interstate 69, a new road that would be constructed from northeast Texas to the Rio Grande Valley.

“The action of the Commission today helps get transportation policy moving in a positive direction,” said state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, an Irving Republican and vice president of the Texas Conservative Coalition, which supported the new commission order.

Sen. John Carona, a Dallas Republican and chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, said the transportation department is a troubled agency.

He has been outspoken in saying there were others more qualified than Delisi to lead the commission and that her appointment was a purely political move by Perry, a fellow Republican.

Perry appointed Delisi, his former gubernatorial chief of staff and former campaign manager, to the commission in April.

That said, Carona added that he is optimistic Delisi will strive to get the agency and commission on track. They have suffered from poor communication and “public policy that is tone deaf to the citizens of the state,” he said.

© 2008 The Brenham Banner-Press

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