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Cold feet in the County Commissioners’ Court?

That $244 million projected cost overrun on the Katy Freeway expansion seems to have spooked our venerable County Commissioners’ Court.

Commissioner Steve Radack sent a letter Wednesday to Art Storey, Harris County public infrastructure director, asking him to meet with the Texas Department of Transportation to address “continued participation in the project using toll-road funds.”

Harris County signed an agreement with the state March 14 to contribute $250 million in Toll Road Authority revenue bonds toward construction of a four-lane tollway down the middle of the Katy Freeway between Texas 6 and Loop 610.

[…]

“Obviously if you’re a government putting $250 million into a project and you see that the project is already more than $200 million over budget — almost what the county has put in — it’s prudent to ask some questions,” Radack said Wednesday in a phone interview from Hilton Head, S.C.

[…]

Radack said the freeway project is “in jeopardy” because the Toll Road Authority can’t repay its debt until the toll lanes are open and generating revenue. That is supposed to happen in late 2008 but could be pushed back if right-of-way acquisitions don’t speed up or funds dry out.

“I want to see that freeway done,” he said. “But I’m not going to sit there and see the taxpayers gouged.”

[…]

County Judge Robert Eckels said he planned to huddle with Storey on Wednesday evening.

“There may come a time when it’s appropriate to withdraw from this project if it is not going to be financially viable for the Toll Road Authority, but I don’t believe we’re at that point yet,” Eckels said. “We need to get together with TxDOT and get to the bottom of the problem.”

This project isn’t going anywhere if the Court doesn’t give its full support to it. Since the Commissioners clearly want this project to succeed, the next article you see will very likely be about how they have come to an agreement with Art Storey and are now confident that the issue has been resolved. (Hell, I could probably write that piece right now.) They’ll be careful not to leave any visible marks, too.

This does not fill me with a warm feeling:

Eckels and Radack both called on Gov. Rick Perry to add two bills to the special legislative session agenda that would make it easier to condemn parcels needed for the freeway widening.

I thought these guys believed in limited government and property rights. Am I missing something here? If you have to pass a law to make it easier to throw people out of their homes in order to build this freeway extension, is that not a sign that maybe your plan is flawed? I’m just asking.

UPDATE: Charles M points out this Chron article in the comments which describes the bill that Eckels and Radack are shilling for.

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One Comment

  1. Charles M says:

    Eckels and Radack both called on Gov. Rick Perry to add two bills to the special legislative session agenda that would make it easier to condemn parcels needed for the freeway widening.

    What they’re talking about is something along the lines of SB 10, authored by Jon Lindsay, no less. The Comical had an article on it week before last.

    Passed by the Senate during the regular session, failed in the House.

    Would have spread eminent domain jurisdiction from the 4 county civil courts to all 25 district courts.

    Money quote: “County officials have said taxpayers are being fleeced in the condemnation cases in Harris County, which has double the percentage of contested eminent domain cases than elsewhere in Texas.”

    On the other hand, “He [H. Dixon Montague, a V&E attorney at whom the legislation is apparently aimed] said that certain opinions from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals have “blistered” the county commissioners’ court over the way it has treated property owners.”

    V&E versus Harris county: really hard to pick sides in this one. Can they both lose?