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Perry decries ban on private toll road contracts
U.S. Secretary of Transportation flies in to support Perry's toll policies

AMERICAN-STATESMAN | April 04, 2007
Ben Wear

Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday called in backup U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters to urge the Legislature to stop something that key legislators have already effectively bottled up: a two-year ban on private toll road leases.

Perry and Peters said the proposed moratorium, carried in identical bills in both houses and co-sponsored by more than two-thirds of lawmakers, would increase traffic congestion and drive away businesses by delaying highway projects. And they styled state and federal gas taxes, which have been frozen at the same rates since the early 1990s, as a 20th-century relic.

"There had to be a better way, and there is," Perry said of his emphasis on toll roads, both those built and operated by government and those put in private hands. Perry and Peters appeared together at an afternoon news conference, and Peters earlier met with several legislators handling transportation matters. "My message to (legislators) is, 'Don't derail your success.' "

The moratorium bills have not made it out of the transportation committees in each house, and the chairmen of those panels Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, and Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County have shown little enthusiasm for advancing them.

Carona, a critic of Perry's transportation policy, nonetheless has said that a moratorium is too large a hammer and that measures short of that might address the public's concerns about allowing private companies to run toll roads for 50 years.

Meanwhile, Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, a former supporter of Perry's toll road policies who has leaped off the bandwagon in a big way, passed out of the Senate an alternative.

His Senate Bill 1795 would double from $3 billion to $6 billion what the state could borrow against the gas tax.

He'd pay for it by stopping $150 million a year of diversion of gas tax money to the Department of Public Safety, replacing it with general state tax and fee revenue.

The Senate vote on Ogden's bill was 30-0.

Ogden, chairman of the budget-writing Finance Committee, last week persuaded his committee to approve a rider to SB 1, the budget bill, that would redirect that $150 million a year to highways.

Ogden, who as then-chairman of the Senate's transportation panel, carried a 2003 bill that made possible the Perry toll road push.

This session, he is carrying legislation that would outlaw private toll road contracts by the state.

Ogden was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

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