The Texas Legislature approved a major transportation bill that includes provisions to make changes at the state Department of Transportation, authorize private toll roads, and transfer permitting for oversize and overweight vehicles.
House and Senate lawmakers reached agreement on the 116-page bill, clearing the way for SB1420 to move to Gov. Rick Perry. The TxDOT reauthorization bill calls for regular reviews of the agency.
Also included is a requirement for the department to submit a financial audit prepared by an independent auditor. In addition, employees could be fired who are found to have lobbied the Legislature.
Changes have been sought for the past few years in retaliation for the board turning a deaf ear to public sentiment about the Trans-Texas Corridor, which was the controversial pet project of Gov. Perry. At one time the corridor plan called for private contractors to build and operate billions of dollars of toll roads in the state.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has criticized the corridor plan since it was unveiled in 2002. The Association cited reasons that included the proposed toll rate of 50 cents per mile for large trucks.
Rep. Jodi Laubenberg, R-Rockwall, is encouraged about the transparency created by the bill.
“Any tools we can give citizens to help hold government entities accountable is good policy,” Laubenberg said in a statement.
A separate provision authorizes TxDOT, and local tolling authorities, to sign public-private partnerships for as many as 10 toll roads.
The so-called comprehensive development agreements would include work on a 28-mile segment of Interstate 35 East between Interstate 635 and U.S. 380; a nine-mile portion of state Highway 183 between state Highway 161 and I-35 E; five segments of the North Tarrant Expressway project; and the Grand Parkway, state Highway 99, in Houston.
Authorization for TxDOT and regional authorities to enter into agreements for lease deals would end on Aug. 31, 2015.
Opponents say the state should not give up control of its roads to corporate interests, which often are foreign-owned.
“It’s a fragmented approach to how we deal with what our needs are for the state,” Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, recently told lawmakers. “It just looks pretty shabby.”
Another provision calls for shifting from TxDOT to a new Texas Department of Motor Vehicles the permitting for oversize and overweight vehicles. The transfer would include all personnel and other functions associated with regulating oversize and overweight vehicles.
TxDOT would continue to be responsible for determining routes for affected loads.
A provision removed from the bill would have prohibited ticket cameras on state roads, unless approved after a public hearing. Towns with fewer than 40,000 residents would have been forbidden from using the technology to issue tickets.
To view other legislative activities of interest for Texas, click here.
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