Texas bills pursue transportation money, tackle corridor plan

| 12/19/2008

Confronted with a struggling transportation fund, lawmakers in Texas soon are expected to wage battle on various methods to help generate $14 billion for roads and bridges throughout the state. Another bill is intended to sideline the planned Trans-Texas Corridor.

A report released this week from the Texas Department of Transportation says that the state will need to come up with $313 billion by 2030 for road and bridge maintenance and for congestion solutions.

The report’s unveiling happened a couple of weeks before the Texas Legislature is set to convene its 2009 session. Lawmakers say they already were committed to providing TxDOT with new money.

Several options to address the state’s struggling transportation fund have been prefiled in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 13 start date of the regular session.

Multiple efforts have been offered by Sen. John Carona. The Dallas Republican is an advocate for preventing transportation money from being diverted for other uses.

One of his bills – SB216 – would limit the use of state highway funds for highway-related projects. It also would authorize highway funds to be used for loan repayment as appropriated by the Texas Constitution, and approved by the Legislature.

Concern about less revenue being generated from the state’s 20-cent-per-gallon fuel tax has spurred Carona to file for consideration multiple measures – SB217 and SJR8 – that would index the tax on gasoline and diesel to inflation. The tax rate would be adjusted Oct. 1 of each year.

Gov. Rick Perry is believed to be receptive to signing the legislation if lawmakers endorse it.

Another effort – SJR9 – would limit the use of tax revenue from the fuel taxes and taxes from the sale of lubricants for vehicles to highway use and schools. Three-fourths of the revenue would be directed for roads with the rest going for education.

The proposed amendments to the state’s Constitution would require voter approval.

Other transportation bills include an attempt to sideline the planned Trans-Texas Corridor project. Sponsored by Rep. David Leibowitz, D-San Antonio, the measure – HB11 – would repeal the authority for the establishment and operation of the corridor.

Spurred by Gov. Rick Perry’s $184 billion pet project, the bill would prohibit TxDOT from buying land or issuing contracts for the corridor project. The corridor plan calls for private contractors to build and operate billions of dollars of toll roads in the state.

The tab for driving along the corridor would run nearly 50 cents a mile for large trucks and about 15 cents for cars.

Critics of the corridor say it would destroy rural Texas as we know it.

As planned, each route of the 4,000 mile network of transportation corridors would include utility zones and separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks, freight railways and high-speed commuter railways.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor