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Will we re-fight the toll road privatization battle?

Maybe. I’m a little dubious, however.

Over a long July Fourth weekend two years ago, with time running out on a chaotic special session, the Legislature refused to extend authority for the Texas Department of Transportation to contract with private toll firms beyond Aug. 31, 2009.

Since then, the privatization of toll roads, long a centerpiece of Gov. Rick Perry’s ambitious and controversial transportation agenda, has been on hold in Texas, even as some grandfathered projects like Dallas’ LBJ Freeway and the North Tarrant Express continued.

Now the issue is set to be debated again as lawmakers return to Austin, ready to confront rising construction needs even as they grapple with commitments to keep taxes low and a frighteningly large budget shortfall.

Immediately after the last session adjourned, Perry’s chief transportation aide promised a hard push to restore the authority to enter into so-called comprehensive development agreements in 2011.

“Absolutely, the governor is going to keep pushing, pushing for putting this tool back in the box,” then-deputy chief of staff Kris Heckmann said.

And in an interview with The Dallas Morning News just before his re-election in November, Perry said he would ask lawmakers to renew authority for the state to partner with private toll firms.

“Now is not the time to leave any tool out of the box,” he said, noting the revenue shortfall that the Legislature will confront and the state’s growing list of unfunded highway needs.

I dunno. As I remember it, there were a lot of Republicans who didn’t much care for the Trans-Texas Corridor. Has that changed all that much since then? Plus, as the story notes, it’s not clear that the private investors will be lining up to provide the funding right now. The track record of private toll roads as an investment is spotty; it’s an inherently risky business, with a lot of cash up front, and the payoff is long term. I can certainly see there being support for some local projects, as indicated for North Texas, but color me skeptical that this is going to fly again as the ultimate solution for our future highway needs.

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  1. […] that the private toll road debate is set to gear up again in Texas, it is fortuitous that the Texas Public Interest Research Group, […]