AusChron On The State Of Tolling In Texas

Posted in 80th Legislature, Around The State, HD-52, Road Issues, Williamson County at 1:50 pm by wcnews

Content-wise there’s not too much new in this article, Hold Those Tolls!, about what transpired with tolls last session. Despite bringing up the issues of rural opposition, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston wanting local control, and objection to foreign corporations, the article doesn’t mention the neglect our state leadership has shown to this issue over the last 16 years and hardly mentions the gas tax.

It does seem very favorable to Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). In this part where Sen. Watson is talking about “being honest” about our problem there sure seems to be a nudge toward the inevitability of corporate tolls as the only option and there’s little honesty about how the gas tax would help fix this situation:

Even Watson, skeptical as he is that a private company can handle transportation any better than the state, admits that a moratorium on deals with private companies could make it harder to do anything significant about area congestion for the next couple of years. “We’re going to need to be honest about limitations of financing tools,” he says. “In the state appropriations bill, there was an effective decrease in transportation money, when you consider inflation. There has been more moving of funds from transportation. Many people say they want an increase in gas tax; the House approved a gas tax holiday that would have taken away gas tax money for three months out of the year [that measure died in the Senate]. The money offered to states from federal government is being decreased; we just got notice that federal money rescinded $72 million more. We’re going to have to start being honest about the limitations we have on being able to meet the need to fix the problem.”

Comparing the gas tax holiday with increasing the gas tax is apples and oranges. And that decrease in transportation money makes it look like we’re being forced into corporate tolling as the only option.

The article did have this excellent beginning tale of the Rep. Mike Krusee’s fall from transportation guru to pariah:

It was Dec. 16, 2004, and Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, was sitting pretty. He was virtually a guest of honor at a meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, across the street from his Capitol office. A little more than a year before, as chairman of the House Trans­port­ation Committee, Krusee had successfully carried the behemoth House Bill 3588. Among its many and complex provisions, the bill helped smooth the way for Gov. Rick Perry to get the Texas Transportation Commission to approve early plans for the Trans-Texas Corridor. Stretching from Mexico to Oklahoma, the corridor would be a mammoth transportation project running parallel to I-35. As conceived, it would include free and tolled highway lanes, as well as rail and utility lines, and would be built and maintained by the privately held Spanish company Cintra (an international operator of toll roads and car parks) and the San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp.

At the Texas Transportation Commission meeting, attended by the governor himself, Krusee didn’t say much. Actions spoke louder than words — and on this day, the commission was acting on a project he had fought long and hard to convince legislators to support. By way of acknowledgment, commission Chairman Ric Williamson duly praised Krusee for his work at the Capitol. Krusee had a flight to catch, but first he took the floor for a brief stroll down memory lane.

“I started thinking about the first time that I met Ric Williamson,” Krusee recalled, according to a meeting transcript. It was 1992, and Krusee had just been elected to the House; then-Rep. Williamson invited the 32-year-old Krusee to his apartment. “So I went over there, and Ric had one of his good friends over there, and that was the night I met Rick Perry, who was the ag commissioner, and we talked long into the night about accomplishing great things for Texas, about how to be a great leader for Texas. And we weren’t thinking about how to be on Texas Monthly’s 10 best [list] — but you know, Ric, I think we were talking about days like this.

“And you know, governor,” Krusee continued, “A little over two years ago when you made that presentation [about the Trans-Texas Corridor] in the auditorium at the Capitol, and I was in the audience, and like everybody else out there, I didn’t really fully grasp what the hell you were talking about.” The audience laughed.

“You do now, don’t you?” asked Perry.

“I do now,” Krusee replied. “And I want to congratulate you on your vision and your leadership, and the commission and your staff on your hard work, because you have made this, I think sincerely, the most historic day in transportation, not just for Texas, but for the United States since Eisenhower.” With that, Krusee left the meeting.

Flash forward nearly 21/2 years — to May 2, 2007. Chairman Krusee stood on the House floor, without a single transportation ally. Every House member present, except Krusee alone, voted in favor of HB 1892, which included a two-year moratorium on many of the public-private partnerships such as the one the Texas Department of Transportation had developed with Cintra-Zachry to build the Trans-Texas Corridor. “Who knew that trying to reduce congestion could be such a lonely fight?” wondered Coby Chase, who monitors the Legislature for TxDOT.

It also brought up many transportation issues that weren’t addressed in the moratorium passed by the 80th legislature.

If the Lege managed to placate the anti-toll crowd, at least for the time being, it didn’t do much to make it any easier to travel on Central Texas highways, nor to address long-term projections that show regional traffic only getting worse. More broadly, the moratorium doesn’t begin to address larger questions raised by traditional highway approaches to transportation: land use, mass transit options, pollution and global warming issues, or even integrated urban planning that might make transportation issues less intractable and expensive.

There were two add on articles as well: Tire Tracks: What the Lege did and What’s Doing on Austin’s Roadways

1 Comment »

  1. Eye on Williamson » Surprise, Surprise! said,

    August 2, 2007 at 9:43 am

    […] put themselves and their job on the line, and show that courage. It’s time we addressed this question honestly and do what needs to be done before more tragedies […]

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