TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE CONSIDERS LEGISLATION LIMITING TRANS TEXAS CORRIDOR
|Senator Kip Averitt discusses his bill that enhances efforts to reduce emissions in Texas.|
(AUSTIN) — Wednesday, the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee considered several bills that would limit the role private companies take in public highway projects, including one measure that would put a moratorium on such projects for two years. Members of the public and legislators alike have shown concern this session regarding what has been called a lack of transparency and accountability in dealings between private contractors and the Department of Transportation, and also concern over giving management rights over public roads to private entities. Senator Steve Ogden, who authored legislation in 2003 that gave TxDOT authority to enter into private/public partnerships, laid out four bills before the committee that he referred to as "a mid-course correction."
Ogden asserts that the state does not need to pay for its roads through private/public partnerships, and that Texas can pay for these projects in other ways. "I think, as I look at the state budget and look at the ability of this state to access capital through bonding," said Ogden, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, "it seems to me it is unnecessary and inappropriate to ask private entities to basically loan us the money to build highways." One of the bills he laid out Wednesday would authorize the state to double the amount of bonds it issues for transportation projects.
The other legislation offered by Ogden places limits on where Trans Texas Corridor projects can be built, who can own them, and how long tolling authority lasts. Ogden's measures would prohibit private companies from owning interest in public roads, and it would require that all toll proceeds go toward operation and maintenance after the project has been paid for. It would also require that future projects follow previously identified routes chosen to complement the state's system of rural highways.
|Senator Robert Nichols lays out a bill that would prohibit public/private partnerships on transportation projects for the next two years.|
The committee also considered a bill by Senator Robert Nichols that would place a moratorium on public/private partnership road projects for two years. Senate Bill 1267 would create a legislative study committee to look at all the details relating to private interest in public roads and consider possible consequences.
Also Wednesday, the Senate approved a bill that would enhance the state's efforts to reduce pollution from mobile sources, in order to meet federal requirements by 2010. "This bill will be able to show dramatic results, and these will be measurable results that all Texans will appreciate," said bill sponsor Senator Kip Averitt.
Senate Bill 12 seeks to reduce car pollution by putting more money into two state funds, the Low-Income Vehicle Repair Assistance, Retrofit, and Accelerated Vehicle Retirement Program (LIRAP) and Texas Emissions Reduction Program (TERP), to cover funding gaps. Averitt said SB 12 will increase funding to these programs by more than $150 million per biennium. The bill also includes a goal of five percent energy use reduction for state agencies, and would adopt stricter efficiency guidelines for appliances.
The Senate will reconvene Thursday, March 22, at 10 a.m.