Friday, May 30, 2008

"TxDOT's minute order does little to truly bind it in its future dealings."

Texas transportation panel sets new rules on toll contracts

May 30, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

The Texas Transportation Commission issued a set of rules for entering into private toll road contracts Thursday in an effort to curb criticism by lawmakers and others who have continued to hammer the agency's push for private toll roads.

The set of guiding principles, as TxDOT called the minute order approved at its Thursday commission meeting, deals with some of the most controversial aspects of private toll road contracts, but in many cases reflects limits already imposed by the Legislature.

No deal will give private companies, for instance, the right to own a road they build, nor will any private firm have the right to set toll rates, the minute order says. Those rates will continue to be set by TxDOT and local planning entities like the North Central Texas Council of Governments' Regional Transportation Council.

"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."

But Thursday's minute order does little to truly bind TxDOT in its future dealings. For instance, the policy states that every private toll road contract will in the future contain a clause permitting the state to take over a toll road at any time, should it ever decide doing so was in the public interest. But it's not the existence of such a term that matters most to critics of the department, because it will be the terms of the buyback that will determine whether it's a good deal for taxpayers or not.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News

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