May 16, 2005
CTC update

The Citizens Transportation Coalition gets a little writeup in today's Chron.

"The process isn't always designed to engage the public," said Robin Holzer, who chairs the coalition. "We want to solve problems in the planning stage before contracts are let and before the bulldozers break ground."

The coalition wants road-building entities, such as the Harris County Toll Road Authority, to seek approval of their projects from affected residents or municipalities and hold at least three public meetings day, evening and weekend.

Those changes aren't likely to happen soon, lawmakers say, so the group is taking what it can get.

Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, has passed a bill requiring longer public notice about upcoming hearings. Toll road hearings are conducted as part of regular Harris County Commissioners Court meetings, which are held downtown every other Tuesday morning.

It's a shame that the toll accountability bill didn't get done like they wanted, but getting any bill passed is a tough chore. There's been some action on the toll road front, mostly in HB2702/SB1706, which is going forward as a "correction" to some of what was in last session's HB3588. That's the bill which created the monster known as the Trans Texas Corridor. The main action there seems to be in limiting the ability to slap tolls on existing roads.

Some aborted attempts in 2003 and 2004 to convert existing highways or turn some roads under construction into toll roads, made it inevitable that the Legislature would fill in the blanks on conversion rules. The two-year-old law, for instance, doesn't define when a road is considered truly free and, thus, in need of an official conversion, which requires votes by various appointed boards and the governor's signature.

That led the Transportation Department to argue that if a road or an expansion project had not yet opened to traffic, it could be changed to a toll road by the agency staff. An attempt to do that on an expansion of U.S. 183 in late 2003 was dropped after a public furor.

"A lot of people were upset with that," [Rep. Mike] Krusee said during the debate on his bill. "They said, 'When you announced the building of this road, you announced it as a free road.' "

Under both Krusee's and [Sen. Todd] Staples' bills, if a road is already under construction as a free road, making it a toll road would require the conversion process in many cases. However, if the expanded road would still have as many free lanes as before, then conversion wouldn't be necessary. And if a local metropolitan planning agency designated a road under construction as a toll road before this May 1, conversion likewise would not be necessary.

Taken together, those exceptions exempt the remaining roads in the controversial Central Texas toll road plan from the litany of official votes needed to make them toll roads.

Both bills would also make conversions more difficult by requiring public votes.

Postcards has a bit more. There were other bills to clip the wings of the TTC this session, but this one appears to be the winner, at least in terms of getting passed. We'll see how it goes. Statesman link via Eye on Williamson County.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 16, 2005 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

How cool to see Robin quoted on your site. Neat. :)

Posted by: Amy on May 17, 2005 12:20 PM

Chuck et al,

Kristen Mack's rumors of our toll road accountability bill's demise are premature. Rep. Wong's conversion provisions made it out of the house as an amendment on one bill, and we're working with Sen. Ellis to amend our other provisions onto another bill in the Senate. A victory is still in the offing in the next two weeks, and citizen efforts have already managed to get all the right legislators talking about toll road accountability. We'll keep you posted!

In the meantime, it continues to be useful for civic organizations to adopt the toll accountability resolution. More than 35 Houston-area organizations have formally adopted it, and your group can too:
CTC Resolution

Robin Holzer
Citizens' Transportation Coalition

Posted by: Robin Holzer on May 17, 2005 12:53 PM