TxDOT Leadership Adds to its Own Challenges
This State has a number of transportation challenges. TxDOT's top leadership in Austin has unfortunately added to those. Instead of working with the Legislature and the communities across Texas, it has acted in a manner that is not conducive to consensus building on critical issues.
Past successes notwithstanding, consider the State of Texas transportation today:
- We have failed to index the gas tax;
- we have failed to accelerate mass transit and diversify other modes of transportation;
- We have failed to implement creative approaches to diminish traffic such as contraflow lanes on underutilized once grand, urban corridors that parallel our expressways;
- We have failed to fight our "donor state" status where we continue to contribute to other states some of the money we generate from our Texas gas tax. This continues despite the fact that the federal government has asked us to shoulder the truck traffic burden NAFTA presents uniquely to Texas;
- TxDOT is making questionable use of public funds to market its tolling idea! Chapter 556 of the Texas Government Code forbids governmental agencies from engaging in lobbying. Its hiring of a public relations firm skirts if it doesn't cross the line!
- TxDOT has consistently exaggerated their estimates of the needs of Texas transportation, as is evidenced by report of the Texas Auditor and other reports.
- TxDOT and the elected officials that have enabled them have failed to effectively lead this process.
On the questions of tolls, in the past number of years, TxDOT has held around 10 hearings with about 5,000 total attending and less that one percent in attendance supporting the tolling of our highways.
On the Trans-Texas Corridor TxDOT held about 56 hearings during a six-week period with about 13,000 in attendance and again the same overwhelming opposition was voiced to TxDOT's Corridor plans.
The Governor and his Chairman of TxDOT now have come up with yet another great idea. Their lobbyist in Washington D.C. has now asked the federal government to allow states to "buy back" interstate highways and levy tolls on them. Such a tolling plan would require a vote of county commissioners and local voters. In response to this overture to Congress, U.S. Senator John Cornyn is quoted in the Express-News last Saturday, September 1, "I think it's a bad idea, and I don't support it."
In that same reportage, U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutcheson said she will "vigorously" block the Texas Department of Transportation from ever levying tolls on federal highways. Congressman Charlie Gonzalez also said he'd oppose tolling existing roadways unless local voters want them.
Allow me to offer a launching-off point for better, more effective relations in its transportation planning process. TxDOT should begin by installing the overpasses estimated to cost $100 million and already paid for by our gas taxes instead of build the hugely intrusive $400 million toll plan for 281 North at four times the cost.
The federal law called SAFETEA-LU requires all departments of transportation across the country to listen to the public as they plan our transportation future. I am calling on TxDOT to begin working in earnest with the diverse elements of this process and listen to the public like never before. The public has spoken. We expect TxDOT to heed its will.
We also expect the Legislature and Congress to do no less!
And finally, to our citizens, I extend a challenge to bring accountability and sanity to this process from all elected officials involved!