No free ride for TxDOT in the Texas House

Link to article here. TxDOT had better be ready for this pit bull…

No free ride for TxDOT in the Texas House
San Antonio Express-News
By Patrick Driscoll on Feb 16, 2009

State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, once said the Texas Department of Transportation’s strong-arming to push toll roads on local communities could come back to bite.

Looks like the new speaker of the Texas House has just handed Pickett some teeth.

Joe Pickett
Joe Straus

Signaling what’s sure to be a bumpy ride for TxDOT and its toll-road and privatization agenda, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, last Thursday named Pickett as chairman of the Transportation Committee.

“I have a lot of confidence in him,” Straus said. “I think he’s independent, he’s smart, he’s constructive, but he doesn’t mind asking tough questions. From the mail I’ve received regarding transportation issues, that’s the kind of profile of a chairman I was looking for.”

Pickett, who serves on a regional transportation planning board and helped write TxDOT budgets while on the House Appropriations Committee, a few years ago accused the agency of threatening to pull funds to pressure toll critics in El Paso.

“It is the state’s way or the highway, I mean tollway,” he said in a widely circulated letter titled, “TxDOT trampled on us.”

‘TxDOT trampled on us’
Toll angst in El Paso

In the last legislative session, Pickett filed a bill to replace the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, with an elected commissioner. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio, who Straus also put on the Transportation Committee, has revived the idea with a similar bill this session.

Another anti-toll strategy
HB 565 (McClendon)

Before the 2007 session, Pickett warned that TxDOT might get beaned in its own game of hardball. As the session came to a close, he said a bill nipping the agency’s tolling power makes it clear “the public is telling TxDOT that ‘We don’t trust you. We have lost faith in what you are doing.’ ”

This is tense
Freeze on private toll roads ready for vote

Now, with so many key questions needing answers — such as what mix of gas-tax dollars, toll-road fees and private financing should pay for transportation, and how should TxDOT be reorganized as part of a sunset bill — Pickett finds himself in one of the driver’s seats.

And Straus doesn’t want the ball dropped.

“I just feel like transportation is going to be addressed in a much more serious way this session,” he told the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board today.