Perry gets the toll road blues

Game on.

A two-year freeze on private toll-road contracts is on its way to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk.

House members voted 139-1 today to accept Senate amendments to a bill that would halt new private-sector toll-road deals for two years. But the complex bill exempts most major North Texas toll projects already in the works.

The one was, of course, Mike Krusee, who somewhat unexpectedly let the original bill out of committee the other day. If it was intended as a blocking maneuver of some kind, I’d say it failed.

Both chambers overwhelmingly passed the bill in an effort to rein in the state’s controversial 50-year deals with private companies to build and run certain toll roads. Senators approved the bill 30-1 on Monday after adding a late amendment.

“Today the Legislature sent a clear message: We will not sell our transportation system at bargain-basement prices,” said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, a former state transportation commissioner and an ardent critic of the state’s recent toll-road policies.

Mr. Perry, who has championed private toll roads as a solution to the state’s growing traffic congestion, now has 10 days to consider a veto. Last week, he released a statement strongly hinting that he would wield his veto power.

“We cannot have public policy in this state that shuts down road construction, kills jobs, harms air quality, prevents access to federal highway dollars and creates an environment within local government that is ripe for political corruption,” Mr. Perry said.

Will he veto and risk an override? Who knows, but it’ll be fun to watch either way.

Eye on Williamson and Burka have some of the backstory on this. More intriguingly, Senator Hutchison sent a letter to the head of the Federal Highway Administration chastising them for overstepping their bounds in advocating against the moratorium. (I know, a Bush Administration guy inappropriately meddling in the political process. Who’da thunk it?) The letter itself is here if you’re curious.

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