I've just about lost track of where the whole toll road moratorium thing is now. I'm not even sure it's appropriate to keep referring to an actual "moratorium", given all the exceptions that have been larded in. In any event, here's the latest.
Trying to avoid a confrontation with the governor, the Texas Senate voted unanimously Monday for another transportation bill that preserves a two-year moratorium on most private toll roads.
Senate Bill 792 also satisfies Gov. Rick Perry's concerns in another transportation bill sitting on his desk that he plans to veto because, he contends, it transfers too much road-building authority from the state to local communities.
The private toll road moratorium would not apply to major projects already planned in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas.
The Houston-area Grand Parkway and a proposed I-69 project from Corpus Christi to Brownsville also would be exempted from the moratorium.
The new legislation, which requires approval by the state House, would create a new "market valuation" approach for planning and building roads.
The latest transportation bill could run into a wary House chamber.
"I don't think any of us have seen it. I don't know what kind of reception it will get," said. Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of the moratorium on private toll roads.
The compromise legislation passed by the Senate represents an agreement between senators, the governor and state highway officials.
"Everybody says it's 'agreed upon,' but I didn't really see any House members in that meeting," Kolkhorst said.
Meanwhile, speaking of I-69:
Commissioners Court voted today to withdraw the county's membership in the Alliance for I-69 Texas, an organization that has long supported converting U.S. 59 through East and South Texas into an interstate highway.
Harris County has paid $50,000 in annual membership fees to the alliance, a coalition of counties, towns, chambers of commerce and others.
"It has always been my position that we spend too much money on membership fees and get no real value for the dollars we spend," said Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.
The vote on County Judge Ed Emmett's motion to withdraw from the organization was unanimous.
The county is at odds with the I-69 alliance over its request that Gov. Rick Perry veto a state transportation bill because it includes a two-year moratorium on long-term contracts between the state and private firms to build and operate toll roads for profit.
The county wants the bill signed into law because another largely unrelated provision would empower the Harris County Toll Road Authority to build toll roads on Texas Department of Transportation right of way.
Emmett said the I-69 alliance, acting on advice from state highway officials, appears to have given up on building Interstate 69, and now supports constructing a Trans-Texas Corridor toll road roughly parallel to the existing U.S. 59.
"The alliance's interests have changed since Harris County joined it," Emmett said. "The original intent was to upgrade U.S. 59 to an interstate."
One more thing, on a side note:
Even if a tolled corridor is built parallel to U.S. 59, [John Thompson, I-69 alliance chairman and Polk county judge] said he still favors converting the present road into an interstate through East Texas, with the toll road being used mainly by heavy trucks going long distances.