By Eileen Welsome
May 2nd, 2007 at 6:42 pm
A couple of years back, state Rep. Mike Krusee was cruising. Together with Pretty Ricky and Ric Williamson, the imperial chair who presides over the Texas Transportation Commission, Krusee managed to push through the blueprint for the most far reaching, privately operated, toll-road network in the country. This afternoon, Krusee saw his plan — and possibly his political career — dashed as the state House of Representatives voted 139 to 1 to approve a measure which slams the brakes on TxDot’s toll-road-building binge.
Arms folded across his chest, his jaw working, Krusee listened to the floor debate, then returned to his desk to cast the only dissenting vote against House Bill 1892. Tom Craddick, the Speaker of the House, seemed not to notice as the voting board behind him lit up in a sea of green lights, with only one little red dot representing Krusee’s vote.
The bill, which has already been approved by the Senate and was sent back to the House for concurrence, forbids the Transportation Department from entering into contracts for two years with its multinational pals from Spain, Sweden, or other parts of the globe. Several projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — SH 121, SH 161, and Loop 9 — have been exempted from the measure. But the moratorium does put back on the shelf two much-maligned toll projects in San Antonio — U.S. 281 and a portion of SH 1604, a loop road that goes around the city.
Another important but less widely known section of the bill would give local governments, such as county commissions, far greater input on the development of future toll-road projects. In an interview with the Observer a couple of days before the vote, Krusee warned the bill could have dire financial consequences for the state, with federal agencies withholding billions for infractions. But the bill’s sponsor, Wayne Smith, said on the House floor today that he had received assurances from federal officials that that just wasn’t so.
Houston’s Garnet Coleman, who for two years has been working to rein in TxDot, was delighted with the bill’s passage. “I can tell you this is a happy day,” said Coleman, as he prepared to fire up a cigarette in an adjoining room.
“Most of the members of the Legislature believe there is something fishy about the franchising or selling of our highways. That’s the reason we’re moving forward with the moratorium.”
Coleman went on to say that the vote is a clear repudiation of Gov. Perry and TxDot. “This is an agency that’s run amok.”
Pretty Ricky, who has already signaled his unhappiness with this legislation, has ten days to veto the bill. That still gives the Lege ample time to override the veto. Coleman said there still could still be a “glitch” in the process, but he’s hopeful that’s not going to happen. “We’re going to move forward with a highway system that’s responsible to the public — not one that’s milking the public.”