Bills in Texas would disrupt toll road privatization

| 3/7/2007

Texas lawmakers have introduced bills in the state Senate and House to disrupt proposals for privatized toll roads - including the Trans-Texas Corridor.

State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, filed two bills less than a week after a public hearing by the state Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security regarding the Trans-Texas Corridor and privatized highways.

It was at that hearing where numerous speakers called for state transportation officials and lawmakers to back off from the controversial 4,000-mile network of toll roads, railways and utility lines proposed by Gov. Rick Perry.

The legislation filed by Nichols on Tuesday, March 7 - SB1267 and SB1268 - limits the state in terms of private-sector involvement in toll roads.

The first bill calls for a two-year moratorium on contracts for privately built toll roads and the creation of a study group to evaluate the long-term effects of privatization. The second bill calls for the state to prohibit converting existing roads to toll roads.

"We must closely evaluate private toll contracts before we sign away half a century of control of our transportation system," Nichols said in a written statement. "Many provisions in recent toll contracts are alarming."

Two dozen lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors.

State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, filed identical legislation - HB 2772 - in the Texas House.

"Passing this bill will be a huge victory for Texans and Texas," members of a grassroots group Corridor Watch said on their Web site.

Corridor Watch participated in the Senate hearing March 1 and helped organize a protest rally against the Trans-Texas Corridor.

Grassroots protests haven't been the only voice of dissent about the proposed corridor.

The Texas State Auditor's Office recently criticized transportation officials for distorting estimated taxpayer costs associated with the corridor. Gov. Perry and others have said the corridor would cost taxpayers very little to build.

The Texas Department of Transportation estimates the cost of the network to be about $184 billion, while state auditors found that one section alone - approximately 14 percent of the proposed corridor - would cost $105 billion.

?- By David Tanner, staff writer