Texas Senate OKs temporary toll ban

| 4/20/2007

The Texas Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday, April 19, that is intended to buy the state more time to review the effects of handing over roadways to private groups. It now heads to the House.

Sponsored by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, the bill would place a two-year moratorium on toll road leases with private groups. The bill – SB1267 – also would require a study of the long-term effects of public-private partnerships.

The moratorium would exempt several projects in North Texas. It also would give regional authorities more say about local projects.

Senate passage of the bill comes less than two weeks after the House voted 137-2 to approve a bill – HB1892 – that includes nearly identical language. The margins of support are more than enough to suggest once both chambers approve a unified version of the bill it would be able to withstand Gov. Rick Perry’s likely veto.

Perry has condemned the moratorium concept because of concerns about congestion and the complications it could create for attracting business. The governor has championed public-private partnerships to build toll roads since 2003 when his support was instrumental to passage of a bill to finance the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor for nearly $180 billion.

Nichols supported the corridor when he was a member of the Texas Transportation Commission. He even testified before lawmakers in 2005 that it is the best way to pay for needed road work, The Associated Press reported.

Now Nichols says he’s concerned about the long-term effects of leasing plans. He is one of many who say passage of the bill is needed because of concerns the state is giving away too much in toll road leases.

The bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, said there are too many questions that need to be answered.

“There are enough questions out there to tap the breaks and take time to look before we leap into these 50-year contracts that we’re signing with private equity companies and tying up our ability to receive revenues off those roads,” Kolkhorst told “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio. “We need to make sure the Trans-Texas Corridor is viable. We need to look at the toll rates. We need to look at the non-competes in there. We need to look at the buy back clauses. There are tons and tons of questions.”

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.