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RIP, Ric Williamson

Ric Williamson, the chair of the Texas Department of Transportation and a huge booster of toll roads, has passed away.

Ric Williamson, the Texas Transportation Commission chairman and a take-no-prisoners advocate for his long-time friend Rick Perry’s toll road policy, has died.

Williamson, 55, who had been on the commission since 2001 and its chairman since January 2004, died of a heart attack, said state Rep. Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. It was not clear today if Williamson died late Saturday night or early Sunday.

Williamson, a Weatherford resident, had served in the Texas House for 14 years, leaving in 1999. He and Perry, who served in the House during a good deal of Williamson’s time there, roomed together in an Austin apartment during several sessions.

“Anita and I are heartbroken at this sudden loss of a confidant, trusted advisor and close personal friend of ours for more than 20 years,” Perry said in a statement released by his office. “Ric’s passion to serve his beloved State of Texas was unmatched and his determination to help our state meets its future challenges was unparalleled. He will be missed beyond words. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Williamson family during this very difficult time.”

Williamson dominated discussion of Texas transportation policy for most of this decade, holding forth at commission meetings in a curiously ornate but still straight-forward style that sometimes infuriated opponents of the toll road policy. Williamson, in particular, was four-square behind granting private companies long-term leases to finance, build and operate publicly owned toll roads, an approach that he said would raise billions for other roads but that others feared gave away too much control of public assets.

Texas Monthly in a June article had called him “the most hated person in Texas, public enemy number one to a million or more people.” In that same article, Williamson told writer Paul Burka, “I’ve had two heart attacks, and I’m trying to avoid the third one, which the doctors tell me will be fatal.”

My sincere condolences to the Williamson family. Burka has more.

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