Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, like Gov. Rick Perry, embraces tax subsidized corporate toll road monopolies

Hutchison says private toll roads will continue if she is governor

Related article: Kay Bailey Hutchison’s transportation plan revives the Trans Texas Corridor


Michael Lindenberger/Reporter
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2009

Note: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will speak in Dallas this afternoon. Check back here for updates to this post throughout the day, with input from the Rick Perry campaign and more details about Hutchison's proposals. Her full proposal can be found here.

Private toll roads will continue to be a significant part of Texas' transportation solutions should Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison be elected governor in 2010, the candidate said today.

"Public-private partnerships are an important part of a modern transportation system, and can often build roads faster and cheaper than the government could do it working alone," Hutchison said in a new policy paper presented by her campaign, and unveiled at a series of public speeches throughout Texas today.

She is scheduled to speak at her Dallas campaign headquarters today at 3:25 p.m., at 10100 Central Expressway.

Hutchison said Gov. Rick Perry, who has pushed hard for privatization of highways for most of his tenure, has failed to include necessary safeguards in the contracts awarded to private companies who seek to build Texas toll roads, in return for the right to collect tolls there for generations to come.

"Too often, those partnerships have given unfair advantages to private parties at public expense," she said. "Some Comprehensive Development Agreements in Texas contain obscure clauses that limit public rights without the public fully realizing it. Some clauses would prohibit the state from building public roads within a certain distance of the toll road. Others could steer traffic onto toll roads by lowering the speed limit on the public road and raising the speed limit on the toll road."

Still, the campaign was not able to immediately point to those examples. And in recent years as the push back against the Trans Texas Corridor grew louder, the Texas Department of Transportation has instituted rules of its own that largely mirror Hutchison's concerns.

Still, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said even a subtle change in emphasis from the governor's office could mean big changes when it comes to the proliferation of toll roads in North Texas.

"There needs to be a better balance in the system, and I think she is aware of that," Carona said. "Under the current strategy, every new road will be a private toll road. That is bad public policy, and I sense that Sen. Hutchison will attempt a better balance."

On other area, Hutchison's proposals were cautious. While Carona and other transportation leaders in the Legislature have called for higher gas taxes, she instead said she'd appoint a task force to study how efficient TxDOT uses the money it already gets, and then to evaluate whether news funds are needed.

Carona called that "a very conservative approach and a starting point for discussion of the issues."

But he said no amount of efficiencies likely to be found in studying TxDOT's operations will provide the money Texas needs to keep traffic moving in its busiest cities or to keep its massive network of highways and bridges in good repair. "I can't speak to what her intentions would be post campaign, should she be elected. But it's clear that the time for studying is past us now. I applaud her desire to look at the efficiency -- that's a job that is never done -- but efficiency alone won't solve this problem. It's a first step, but by itself it will be no where close to enough."

© 2009 Dallas Morning News: www.dallasnews.com

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