Thursday, October 16, 2008

“I think you’re going to hear a lot about TxDOT next Legislative session.”

Legislature will take close look at TxDOT

Hegar says agency will be presented a series of reforms


By Stephen Palkot
Fort Bend Herald
Copyright 2008

Saying leaders at the Texas Department of Transportation have been arrogant and have shown disdain for the Texas Legislature, District 18 State Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, told a Richmond gathering he expects the Legislature to implement changes in the agency.

“I think you’re going to hear a lot about TxDOT next (legislative) session,” said Hegar.

Hegar was speaking before the Rosenberg-Richmond Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning, explaining his involvement in the Legislature’s Sunset Advisory Commission, which issued a scathing report on TxDOT in January.

Hegar and other members of the committee in December will be voting whether to implement a series of proposed reforms, including the replacement of the agency’s five-member commission with a single leader.

Hegar said this reduction could eliminate much of the politics among members of the commission.

Perhaps the most controversial initiative of TxDOT in recent years has been the agency’s push for public-private partnerships, wherein private companies have been offered 50-year contracts to build roads and charge tolls.

Hegar criticized this practice, saying whatever money taxpayers get up-front from private interests will be made up by exorbitant tolls charged by the same companies.

This has been the proposed model for the much-criticized Trans-Texas Corridor.

“There’s no way I’m going to get a contract that’s fair for Texans in the end,” said Hegar.

Hegar also cited instances of difficulties between the Legislature and TxDOT leaders, such as an instance where members of the agency made differing claims on the number of private-public partnerships in place or the agency’s decision to engage in a multi-million dollar ad campaign to drum up support for the Trans-Texas Corridor following the 2007 Legislative session.

“That’s just unbelievable to me. Unbelievable. We just made a statement and then (TxDOT) went around and did something completely different,” he said.

The agency also made headlines for a $1.2 billion accounting error, and on Wednesday Hegar criticized the agency for not being able to name any individual that lost his or her job over the error.

Hegar said he the Legislature will likely make TxDOT go through a sunset review in four years, instead of the traditional 12 years for state agencies, and he said he expects greater Legislative involvement in the agency.

Either way, Hegar said he does not expect “business as usual” in the years to come.

“We can’t afford (business as usual), we don’t have the money for it and we don’t have the time,” said Hegar.

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