Thursday, June 05, 2008

We really REALLY mean it this time....

NOW TxDOT must act on its promises


San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008

The Texas Transportation Commission sounded the right notes last month in its first meeting under new leadership. Deirdre Delisi, recently appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to chair the commission, and her fellow commissioners finally seem to have gotten the message — the Texas Department of Transportation has lost the public's trust.

For those with short memories, here are a few highlights that explain how that happened:
  • TxDOT fought to keep details of Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor secret. It denied repeated requests from the media and landowners to let the public view a plan that calls for hundreds of miles of toll roads.
  • When Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an opinion that TTC documents should be made public, TxDOT joined in a suit with the design contractor to keep the information sealed.
  • While TxDOT officials complained about a shortage of funds for freeway projects, they diverted $9 million to an advertising campaign to promote toll roads.
  • The transportation agency quietly produced a report that advocated turning existing interstate highways into toll roads and giving tax breaks to private companies for investing in toll projects.
  • The report only became public when agency officials sought congressional support to enact the controversial, previously unknown plan.
Given this recent history, Delisi's concern about rebuilding the public trust is well placed.

At its May meeting, the Transportation Commission pledged it would open up TxDOT's financial data, restrict tolling options to new roadways while keeping existing roadways free, and ban noncompete clauses that limit improvements to existing roadways as part of tolling contracts.

The commission said all the right things. Now it has to deliver.

If it doesn't, the staff of the state's Sunset Advisory Commission has a solution: Abolish the Texas Transportation Commission and replace it with an appointed transportation commissioner who must answer to a Legislature with greater oversight authority of the state's transportation system.

Lawmakers may decide to adopt the recommendations of the Sunset review during the next session, regardless of what Delisi and her colleagues do. At minimum, the Sunset Advisory Commission's recommendations about accountability deserve serious consideration.

If the Transportation Commission doesn't follow through on its newly made commitments, it will simply make the decision for lawmakers easier.

© 2008 San Antonio-Express News

To search TTC News Archives click HERE

To view the Trans-Texas Corridor Blog click HERE