April 11, 2007
Toll road moratorium passes House

It took a little gamesmanship, but the two-year toll road moratorium has passed out of the House.

Reacting to public hostility, the Texas House tentatively slapped a two-year moratorium on private company toll road projects Tuesday with a loud 134-5 vote.

"This moratorium gives us a chance to take a deep breath," Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren-ham, said of her effort to temporarily stop private company toll roads.

The proposed moratorium faces a final House vote today and an uncertain future in the Senate. Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, opposes a moratorium while he tries to negotiate a compromise measure. But the moratorium has support from 26 of 31 senators.

Kolkhorst's moratorium would stop private company toll roads and create a committee to study the pros and cons of those private equity finance projects. The committee must issue a report by Dec. 1, 2008.

Kolkhorst attached her moratorium measure to a transportation-related bill. Her own moratorium bill had been stranded in the House Public Transportation Committee, whose chairman, Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Taylor, opposes it.

Basically, Rep. Kolkhorst took HB2772, which was her moratorium bill, and attached it as an amendment to HB1892, which regulates how counties can finance and build various transportation projects, including toll roads. House Transportation Chair and staunch toll road advocate Rep. Mike Krusee had promised a hearing for HB2772 if the companion SB1267 passed out of the full Senate, but apparently the pro-moratorium forces didn't trust him.

The moratorium would not affect the Harris County Toll Road Authority, Kolkhorst assured Houston-area lawmakers.

Eye on Williamson liveblogged this debate and made note of the HCTRA exception, which means they will still be able to make private equity arrangements (SA Toll Party flagged a Chron article about this from March 30). Exempting the HCTRA from the rest of the bill led the CTC to make a last-minute push against HB1892, and created the odd specter of Rep. Krusee warning about the evils of public-private contracts, but in the end it didn't matter. HB1892 passed by a 123-17 margin, and barring any last minute shenanigans, it should pass. Now it's on to the Senate, where as noted there's still Sen. John Carona's wobbliness to worry about. So stay tuned.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 11, 2007 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles