BAD Bill Alert…SB 1029 removes local public hearing/county commissioner approval (toll roads)

Below is a cut & paste from Terri Hall (http://texasturf.org/grassroots-action-center/327-bad-bill-alert). Read her explanation below – or – go to the bottom of this article for info on what you can do now – TODAY – to stop this bad bill

SB 1029 keeps 5 loopholes in the law that allow the conversion of free lanes into toll lanes, removes public vote

We have serious concerns about the committee substitute for SB 1029, because it actually reinforces the loopholes in statute that allow TxDOT wide latitude to convert existing free lanes into toll lanes — a DOUBLE TAX. The bill (as currently substituted) does NOT protect Texans. John Barton of TxDOT has said privately this bill would allow TxDOT unlimited authority to toll any road in Texas, including free lanes. Rather than remove the loopholes, the bill as currently written would instead remove ANY accountability to the public for these conversions by repealing the public hearing, the public vote, and approval by the county commissioners, making current law worse.

The original filed bill would have taken out all the exceptions. All the loopholes after the word ‘unless’ (see paragraph from the bill below) would have been eliminated, and, thus, would protect Texans from having free lanes converted to toll lanes.

Sec.A228.201. LIMITATION ON TOLL FACILITY DESIGNATION.(a) The [Except as provided by Section 228.2015, the] department may not operate a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway as a toll project, and may not transfer a highway or segment to another entity for operation as a toll project, unless:

But 5 loopholes remain in the senate bill. The purpose of the original filed bill is to prevent free lanes from being converted to toll lanes, not stop all toll projects or those currently in development. It would simply set a standard for the type of tolling that’s permissible in this state. Virtually every legislator will tell their constituents they’re against tolling existing roads, yet there is no law that actually gives Texans protection from such DOUBLE TAXATION in statute. This bill continues to grant TxDOT permission to convert free lanes into toll lanes rather than protect Texans.

If were not fixing the problem, and indeed making it worse by removing the public hearing and public vote, then the bill should die.

Here are some examples of how these exceptions give TxDOT a virtual blank check to convert free lanes to toll lanes:

Sec.A228.201. LIMITATION ON TOLL FACILITY DESIGNATION.(a) The [Except as provided by Section 228.2015, the] department  may not operate a nontolled state highway or a segment of a nontolled state highway as a toll project, and may not transfer a highway or segment to another entity for operation as a toll project, unless:

(1) the commission by order designated the highway or segment as a toll project before the contract to construct the highway or segment was awarded

This gives the Transportation Commission virtually unlimited permission to convert any freeway into a tollway as long as it designates it a toll project prior to going to contract. That could mean ANY Texas freeway with language that broad. Going to contract is one of the LAST steps, well after the public hearing phase. So this could be done very last minute without any public notice and without a public vote.

(2) the project was designated as a toll project in a plan or program of a metropolitan planning organization on or before September 1, 2005

Most all toll projects currently under development around the state were in an MPO plan prior to September of 2005. So this loophole would explicitly allow TxDOT to convert free lanes into toll lanes. Indeed, MPOs have 25 year plans with hundreds of projects designated as toll projects. So the argument that we need to let the current projects go ahead and toll existing lanes, and perhaps protect Texans ‘moving forward,’ means Texans can be DOUBLE TAXED on hundreds of projects for the next 25 years. So this loophole, in effect, guts the purpose of the bill and makes it window dressing, not genuine protection.

(3) the highway or segment is reconstructed so that the number of nontolled lanes on the highway or segment is greater than or equal to the number in existence before the
reconstruction;

(4) a facility is constructed adjacent to the highway or segment so that the number of nontolled lanes on the converted highway or segment and the adjacent facility together is greater than or equal to the number in existence on the converted highway or segment before the conversion;

TxDOT’s interpretation of these two exceptions were laid out before the Sunset Commission in 2008 and the agency clearly stated they believe this allows them to convert existing non-toll main lanes into toll lanes and leave frontage/access roads as the new non-toll lanes. Though legislators on the Sunset Commission contended with TxDOT on their definition and stated it clearly violates the legislative intent to keep main lanes that are currently non-toll, toll-free, the statute has not been tightened up to ensure Texans are protected from such DOUBLE TAXATION. (View the clip of video from the sunset hearing here.)

Cleaning up these loopholes has been our number one priority for the last 4 sessions and it’s imperative to protecting the original intent of the taking of the right-of-way for a FREEway. Each time the roadblock is the toll authorities and TxDOT. Our lawmakers have a fiduciary duty to protect the traveling public from having their freeways they depend on for daily living turned into tollways, regardless of what these government agencies want to do taxpayers. Since the bill actually makes things worse by removing ANY accountability to the public by repealing the public hearing, the public vote, and approval by the county commissioners, we ask for your help in KILLING the bill.

PLEASE HELP US STOP SB 1029!

Provided by Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom or Texas TURF

CONTACT: Terri Hall, Founder, Texas TURF, (210) 275-0640, WEB: http://www.texasturf.org, EMAIL: terri@texasturf.org 

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All this bill needs for passage is to be voted out of committee (requires unanimous vote) and sent to the House chamber for a vote (it has already passed the senate). Currently, this bill is in the House Local & Consent Calendar Committee. If we can get one (1) committee member to vote NO on support of passing this bill out of committee, we can halt it from going to the House chamber.
Contact the Committee Members, especially those closest to your district, and express your disproval of the removal of local oversight of toll roads in your area.

Local & Consent Calendars Committee:
Chair: Rep. Senfronia Thompson (512) 463-0720
Rep. Lyle Larson (512) 463-0646
Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (512) 463-0135
Rep. Dwayne Bohac (512) 463-0727
Rep. Cindy Burkett (512) 463-0464
Rep. Travis Clardy (512) 463-0592
Rep. Nicole Collier (512) 463-0716
Rep. Marsha Farney (512) 463-0309
Rep. Larry Gonzales (512) 463-0670
Rep. Armando Martinez (512) 463-0530
Rep. Joe Moody (512) 463-0728
Rep. Sergio Munoz, Jr. (512) 463-0704
Rep. Kenneth Sheets (512) 463-0244

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