Thursday, May 14, 2009

"For years, Texans have been fighting the state's leadership & TxDOT to abolish the Trans-Texas Corridor, but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears"

New amendments on the Trans-Texas Corridor, toll roads

By David McQuade Leibowitz - Guest Commentary
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2009

I recently attached five amendments to House Bill 300, the Sunset bill of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).

These amendments include a provision repealing the Trans-Texas Corridor and another banning the conversion of free roads into toll roads.

For years, Texans have been fighting the state's leadership and TXDOT to abolish the Trans-Texas Corridor and the development of toll roads, but their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

Today was the first step in putting control of the state's transportation policy back in the hands of the people.

Amendment No. 1, abolishing the Trans-Texas Corridor: Before this session started, state leaders proclaimed that the Trans-Texas Corridor was dead, but the term "Trans-Texas Corridor" survived in one very important place, the state Transportation Code.

This would allow them to build the corridor, but just under a different name.

This amendment strikes the Trans-Texas Corridor from statute so that TxDOT no longer has the authority to develop the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Amendment No. 2, Elected Transportation Commission: There is widespread belief that TxDOT needs to be more accountable to the citizens of Texas.

One means to do this would be the creation of an elected transportation commission.

This amendment creates a 15 member Transportation Commission, where 14 members would be elected from geographic districts in Texas, and one member to serve as chairman would be elected at large from the entire state.

Amendment No. 3, ban conversion of free roads into toll roads: Existing law requires voter approval for toll road conversions.

House Bill 300 has conversion prohibition language, but removes voter approval of a conversion from the process. It also has gaping loopholes that allow for conversions without voter approval.

If House Bill 300 was left as is, it would actually be weaker than current law which at least requires voter approval to convert highways in certain situations.

Amendment No. 4, auditing of TxDOT contracts: In the state's standard contract management practices, state agency contracts are subject to audit by the state auditor's office.

One of two exemptions to these audits is TxDOT's highway construction or engineering contracts.

This amendment simply requires that every contract from TxDOT including highway construction contracts have a provision that states that the contract is subject to audit by the state auditor's office.

Amendment No. 5
, state auditor review of CDA reports: In legislation passed in 2007, tolling entities had to have the traffic and revenue report of their Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDA) reviewed by the attorney general, the state comptroller and the state auditor.

These reviews often highlighted problems with the reports.

House Bill 300 removes the state auditor from the CDA review process.

This amendment puts them back into the review process of the traffic and revenue studies.

David McQuade Leibowitz is the state representative for District 117. He can be reached in San Antonio at 372-0759 or at his Austin office at (512) 463-0269.

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