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TxDOT’s new chief vows state will own toll roads
Trans-Texas Corridor plan still has skeptics
By KELLEY SHANNON
May 30, 2008
AUSTIN — Transportation Commission Chair Deirdre Delisi, whose political ties to Gov. Rick Perry drew criticism when he appointed her, led her first meeting Thursday and expressed a desire to build public trust in the transportation agency.
The commissioners adopted an order governing toll projects and the Trans-Texas Corridor and set out to improve citizen and legislative access to Texas Department of Transportation’s financial data.
The commission unanimously agreed that all Texas highways will be owned by the state, not private developers; that the state may buy back the interest of a private road developer; that only expansions to existing highways will be tolled and existing free lanes won’t be reduced; and that “non-compete clauses” will be banned, meaning no state contract will limit improvements to nearby existing roads.
The order also calls for an attempt to minimize disturbing private property and to consider using existing rights of way.
The clarifying statement came in response to public criticism during the early planning stages of the Trans Texas Corridor, Perry’s plan to contract with private companies to build toll roads throughout the state.
Opponents remained skeptical. Terri Hall, director of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom said that if TxDOT expands or builds a competing road, the toll contractor could require compensation from taxpayers for any resulting loss in toll revenue.
David Stall, who operates the CorridorWatch.org with his wife, Linda, said the state had always intended to own the toll roads that it leased to private operators.
The new rules also call for only new lanes to be tolled, but Stall said that if TxDOT continues to rely on toll financing for new projects, it means “that they are not intending to expand existing free highways beyond the current expansion plans.”
Initial phases of the Trans Texas Corridor are a toll highway that would run roughly parallel to part of Interstate 35, and Interstate 69, a road that would be constructed from Northeast Texas to the Rio Grande Valley.
Delisi takes over a job formerly held by another close Perry ally, the late Ric Williamson.
Chronicle reporter Rad Sallee contributed to this story.