Senator Nichols witnesses a slippery, rogue agency in TxDOTThe real turning point came during the testimony for SB 1892 (after a long day and after our folks had already testified against SB 1929 for not addressing the fundamental citizen concerns). By the time the third or fourth citizen (out of nearly a dozen which is quite an accomplishment in the middle of the workday an hour and half away from home) repeated their same request mentioned during testimony for SB 1929 asking for our roads to be included in the moratorium language after they just moved to amend it to take them out, it finally dawned on Senator Robert Nichols, ex-Transportation Commissioner, to call TxDOT up to clarify the language.
It was then that the light bulb went on for Nichols and the other senators on the committee. TxDOT trotted out their staffers to give a live demonstration of what San Antonians have had to stomach for two years…a total linguistic gymnastics lesson in TxDOT legal interpretation techniques. The moratorium language excepts “managed lane” (adding NEW toll lanes to an existing highway) toll projects on controlled access highways that are in advanced stages of development, which would take 1604 OUT of the moratorium. They tried to make the case that 281 is not under the moratorium either because the private toll deal (CDA) they’re negotiating with two foreign companies is a “package deal” (with 281 being the cash cow lynchpin for getting the private entity to take on the less lucrative 1604 managed lane project by tucking in the conversion of an existing highway that will toll ALL 6 lanes with no expressway alternative route) tied to Loop 1604.
Then Nichols went toe to toe with TxDOT’s flawed reasoning saying they’re two separate highways and two different projects so he asked, “How can you link two different highways together when they’re two different projects?” TxDOT again laid out their inane interpretation and Nichols corrected them repeatedly saying 281 is a rural divided highway NOT a controlled access highway as the exception language states. TxDOT stubbornly continued their faltering argument…they basically had no answer for this ex-Commissioner who knows his stuff. Nichols finally began to see why the citizens had to file a lawsuit to stop this insanity when he said, “OK, now I’m beginning to see why (citizens are concerned about the language)?”…TxDOT isn’t following the law and they’re interpreting things in such a way as to be reaching beyond any believable argument.
After this exchange, Senator Kim Brimer spoke with several citizens in the back of the room and repeatedly stated it is against the law to convert 281 into a tollway. He said over and over that TxDOT can’t do that and that it’s illegal. Our refrain was: “but they are” unless he and the Legislature stops them. That’s what we’ll continue to fight for until the job is done and the language is rock-solid and explicit.
Williamson’s Asset Fixation
Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson repeatedly referred to our state highway system as an asset the State needs to maximize the value of. The State Highway system doesn’t belong to the Governor, Ric Williamson, nor private companies, but the PEOPLE of Texas. Maximizing the value of state assets should not be the focus of or mission of our state highway department. It’s past time to move beyond auctioning off the PUBLIC’S highway system and lifeblood of commerce and daily living to the highest private bidder whose primary concern is its shareholders on Wall Street and not the PEOPLE of Texas!
The funding problem is someone’s fault…Williamson’s
He also claimed our highway funding issues are nobody’s fault. WRONG! Ric Williamson in his role as a State Rep. on the House Appropriations Committee, in fact, was responsible for diverting more of our gas taxes away from transportation to DPS, the Dept. of Mental Health, and other areas not salient to roads. How convenient that now he opines they’re “out of money” and “underfunded” and that the options are 3 different flavors of unacceptable: “it’s toll roads, no roads, or slow roads.” Williamson represents and advocates what’s truly unsustainable and intolerable to taxpayers. Toll proliferation will cripple this state, its economy, its businesses, its families, and its cost of goods.
TxDOT BIGGEST advocates for private tolling in the country!
Williamson actually had the audacity to state he and TxDOT are not in a position to argue for or against things, but to be a resource, answer questions and implement policy. HOGWASH! That’s all they’ve been doing since 2003! They’re the BIGGEST advocates of privatizing our public highway system in the country! I’ve personally debated TxDOT and the Tolling Authority Chair on several occasions and they clearly were the “pro-toll” side and we were against. So once again, TxDOT and Williamson operate in their own reality or are pathological liars, both of which are destructive to this state and constitutes illegal taxpayer funded lobbying!