Monday, May 11, 2009

House Bill 300 lurches to Senate

TxDOT bill, in all its glory, advances


Robert T. Garrett/Reporter
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

The House, after adding about 18 more changes, finally today disgorged the bill to extend the life of the Texas Department of Transportation. The vote was 138-6, with five of the "nays" coming from North Texas: Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas; Dan Flynn, R-Van; Will Hartnett, R-Dallas; Brian McCall, R-Plano; and Vicki Truitt, R-Keller.

The bill, by Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, now varooms over to the Senate, where it is almost certain to see substantial changes.

The last minute maneuvering included a proposal by Rep. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, to exempt Collin and Denton counties from a Houston area lawmaker's amendment that -- in North Texas, at least -- would vastly strengthen the hand of the North Texas Tollway Authority.

"They're trying to control it so they're the only ones who get the work," Paxton said of NTTA and toll roads. "That's fine, as long as there's competition and they do it the most efficiently -- and when we want the roads built, at the best price."

The bill would radically alter the state's highway building agency, known as TxDOT. It would scrap the five member, gubernatorially appointed Transportation Commission that has final say on which roads get built. There would instead be a single statewide elected commissioner. There also would be a number of regionally elected sub-commissioenrs -- 14 at last count. And a new legislative overseer committee, consisting of six lawmakers, would butt in a lot during intervals when the Legislature is not in session.

After a flurry of excitement this morning over toll roads, Reps. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, and Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, jointly authored an amendment approved this afternoon that clarified that five provisions restricting toll road contracts and vendors would not be voided by a Phillips amendment Friday that extended the life of "comprehensive development agreements." Phillips is now extending those complicated arrangements, often used to build new toll roads, for four more years, not six.

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