Senators talk tough at hearing, but didn't rein in the TxDOT monster when they could have

Link to article here.

Senators may talk tough in these hearings, but the bottom line is they didn’t rein in the TxDOT oligarchy when they should have…during the last legislative session. For all the huffing and puffing they did, they never blew the house down! They know TxDOT cooked the books on the Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 project, yet the Attorney General nor any of these “outraged” senators have done a single thing to bring anyone to justice.

Perhaps it’s that cozy relationship with those in the hotel yesterday (the highway lobby was swarming at the annual Transportation Summit where private industry and government wed themselves together, sealed with a kiss, of course) that prevents the public from getting a fair shake and encourages criminal uses of our hard earned tax dollars. Et tu, Brute? and Judas come to mind…the kiss of betrayal!

TxDOT rides in hot seat as lawmakers fume
By Patrick Driscoll
Express-News
08/07/2007

IRVING — Just two months after the state’s transportation department got its latest marching orders from the Legislature, a leading state senator said Tuesday the agency is as arrogant as ever.At a hearing of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, Chairman John Carona, R-Dallas, accused Texas Department of Transportation officials of circumventing legislative intent and even refusing to explain what they’re up to.

“What does it take to get TxDOT to listen to the will of the legislators?” he said. “It is a core attitude of arrogance that I believe still exists.”

Carona made the same complaint last spring during a wild legislative session in which more than half a dozen bills gained traction to reign in the department’s toll-road policies.

Surviving a gauntlet of political maneuvering was Senate Bill 792, which shifted some tolling powers to local agencies, limited what contracts can do and stopped leasing of toll roads — though there were many exemptions — pending further study.

Then came surprises from TxDOT officials, who said:

The moratorium on toll leases won’t affect any contracts for toll roads or rail lines for the Trans-Texas Corridor route that will parallel Interstate 35, though those projects weren’t exempted.

They might be able to get around the toll-lease ban by collecting the tolls themselves and then paying private developers returns based on traffic flows, an arrangement called availability payments.

They plan to move forward with a $2.5 million program to test speed cameras on Texas 6 near College Station and on I-10 in Hudspeth County, despite a law passed this year to prohibit cities from using such cameras.

Carona decided it was time for an update, and called a hearing on the first day of the annual Transportation Summit, which TxDOT boycotted two years ago because of disagreements with Dallas area leaders over where the Trans-Texas Corridor should go.

At the hearing, held at a Westin Hotel, Carona protested that his letters and phone calls to TxDOT about its speed-camera project have been ignored.

“All we’re asking for is the courtesy of an explanation,” he said.

He cast doubt on TxDOT’s hope of using availability payments.

“What I heard was you found another way to get around us,” he said.

State senators Robert Nichols, R- Jacksonville, and Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, the only other committee members there, also fired shots.

Nichols, who has served on the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, said using availability payments would be like the state co-signing private loans.

“I’m not so sure you have the ability to do that,” he said.

After Carona noted that he couldn’t make TxDOT play nice but he sure could turn up the heat, Shapiro flashed a friendly smile and chimed in: “I think he speaks for most of us.”

Speaking for TxDOT, Assistant Director Amadeo Saenz and Transportation Commissioner Fred Underwood emphasized there’s a severe shortage of funds, which means toll roads are needed.

“Texas is facing enormous and rapidly increasing transportation needs,” Underwood said. “Achieving our goals will require a long-term program of investment in our transportation system by state, local governments and, we believe, by private participants.”

Carona said he wasn’t directing his attacks at Underwood, saying he’s too new on the commission to have caused problems, or Saenz, saying he thinks the world of him.

0 Replies to “Senators talk tough at hearing, but didn't rein in the TxDOT monster when they could have”

  1. george

    I have my fingers crossed that Amadeo Saenz replaces Mike Behrens. If he does, the people of the State of Texas have a slim chance of not being steam rolled by the Texas Transportation Commision. If however, as I fear the fix may already be in, John Bohouslav gets the nod, Senator Carona will think Ric Williamson is a pussycat in comparrison.

    Either way, with 2 years to cripple the State financially before it’s sunset review by the Legislature, I fear the only solution is going to be litigation. I don’t think a recall petition has a chance like it did in California, and we don’t have an Arnold Swartzenegger waiting in the wings anyway.

    Keep up the pressure! The light of day and constantly hammering on these folks is the only thing they respond to. If it puts thier retirement plans in jeopardy, they’ll scramble like fighter pilots on alert!

  2. Esteban Erik Stipnieks

    Long live Senator Wentworth!
    A man who stands for the people with all the deterimination of a yorkie with two functional limbs.

    Long live Senator Jeff Wentworth
    A man who would have been first to surrender to Santa Anna long before the first shot was fired.

    Long live Senator Jeff Wentworth
    A man who would have handed the canon of Gonzales over gladly and served it up with a side of burritos

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