May 31, 2008
A change of direction at TxDOT?

Is new TxDOT Chair Deirdre Delisi, whose appointment to replace the late Ric Williamson was not very well received due to her close ties to Governor Perry, trying to take the agency in a new direction regarding toll roads? Maybe, maybe not.

The commission unanimously agreed that all Texas highways will be owned by the state, not private developers; that the state may buy back the interest of a private road developer; that only expansions to existing highways will be tolled and existing free lanes won't be reduced; and that "non-compete clauses" will be banned, meaning no state contract will limit improvements to nearby existing roads.

The order also calls for an attempt to minimize disturbing private property and to consider using existing rights of way.

The clarifying statement came in response to public criticism during the early planning stages of the Trans Texas Corridor, Perry's plan to contract with private companies to build toll roads throughout the state.

Opponents remained skeptical. Terri Hall, director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom said that if TxDOT expands or builds a competing road, the toll contractor could require compensation from taxpayers for any resulting loss in toll revenue.

David Stall, who operates the with his wife, Linda, said the state had always intended to own the toll roads that it leased to private operators.

The new rules also call for only new lanes to be tolled, but Stall said that if TxDOT continues to rely on toll financing for new projects, it means "that they are not intending to expand existing free highways beyond the current expansion plans."

The devil's in the details. It's too early to say if this is cosmetic or substantive. There's no evidence that I'm aware of to indicate a change of heart on Perry's part, so it's hard to imagine Delisi advocating any real changes. But perhaps they've at least admitted defeat about some aspects of the TTC. That would be a start. Eye on Williamson has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 31, 2008 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles