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Texas lawmakers say ‘no’ to toll roads

By Keith Goble
state legislative editor


The Texas Legislature wrapped up a two-day special session July 2, authorizing $2 billion in highway bonds and extending the operations of five state agencies, including the Texas Department of Transportation.

Lawmakers are likely to get a hearty thumbs up from constituents for a decision made on toll roads. They turned down an attempt to extend the authority of TxDOT and regional mobility authorities to sign long-term toll road leases with private companies.

Despite pleas from Gov. Rick Perry to authorize public-private toll roads around the state, House and Senate lawmakers turned a cold shoulder to the plan to authorize so-called comprehensive development agreements for another two years.

Texas law now mandates that the authority to enter long-term contracts with private toll-road developers go away by Sept. 1, with the exception of a short list of proposed roads that have until 2011.

The governor received another blow when lawmakers approved the $2 billion transportation bonding bill without placing bond revenues in a revolving fund that could have been used for projects, including privately operated toll roads. Instead, the account prohibits converting free roads into toll roads.

Lawmakers reversed their course on the tolling option several weeks after the end of the regular session when they made numerous attempts to adopt an extension of the deal-making authority. In addition, they previously favored restrictions on toll contracts including limits on non-compete clauses, limits on how long tolls could be charged, and a requirement that TxDOT submit non-toll options to the Legislature for evaluation.

Despite the provisions being combined into one bill for their consideration during the special session, House and Senate lawmakers opted to avoid a vote on the issue until the next regular session, which is scheduled in 2011.

In spite of the demise of the toll road bill, projects already in the works will be allowed to continue. LL