Bill to Halt Private Toll Road Deals Passes Out of Committee
Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee passes SB 1267
AUSTIN -- The Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee today passed SB 1267, which places a two-year freeze on toll road contracts with private companies and establishes a committee to study the long-term affects of public/private toll agreements and offer a report next session.
Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), the bill's author and a member of the committee, said he was glad the bill passed today.
"We don't have the luxury of time," said Nichols. "If we wait too long, these contracts will be signed and Texas will be trapped in agreements that will hold our transportation system hostage for the next half century."
Nichols, a former transportation commissioner, has three major concerns with proposed private toll road contracts:
- competition penalties that cripple the state when building new roads or improving current roads for 50-plus years;
- a private tolling authority's ability to significantly increase toll rates; and
- The lack of a clear formula to determine cost should the state need to terminate the contract early and "buy back" the road.
Only private toll road projects would be affected. Public road projects would not be delayed. In fact, under a two-year moratorium, public entities would have an opportunity to pursue pending projects, both tolled and non-tolled.
"There are local entities eager to build these projects and use revenues to directly benefit the area," said Nichols." Taxpayers should ask themselves if their roads should be for the good of citizens or the benefit of shareholders."
The Transportation and Homeland Security Committee passed SB 1267 as a committee substitute exempting a limited number of managed road projects in North Texas.
To be exempt from the two-year freeze, roads must be:
- a managed lane added on to an existing road
- in non-attainment or near non-attainment area;
- a project for which the Texas Department of Transportation has already issued a request for qualifications;
- and approved by county commissioners through a resolution stating an understanding of any non-compete provisions.
"Managed lane projects add capacity to existing highways without posing the same risks as a new private toll project," said Nichols. "However, even with managed roads the local community should have final say in the terms of the contract."
The bill will now be sent to the full Senate where 27 of the 31 senators have signed onto SB 1267 as co-authors. The House version of the bill, HB 2772 by Rep. Kolkhorst, has over 111 co-sponsors.