Roads to Nowhere

It's make-or-break week for toll roads, and the road through the Senate is bumpy.

This week could see the end of the plan to privatize much of the future of Texas transport. Massive road omnibus bill Senate Bill 1929 faces a make-or-break vote by the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on Wednesday. The committee's chair, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, hopes his bill will plug the funding gaps in planned road developments by letting municipal-planning organizations hand huge contracts over to toll-road operators. But the signs are really not good.

First of all, the vote was supposed to take place Monday, not Wednesday. Last Wednesday, Carona said that he realized there was opposition to the bill as it stood and hoped that a series of meetings may have solved everything. Or at least that each senator could find enough in the bill to vote for – enough to outweigh the stuff they hated. And they hated a lot. There is a bipartisan lack of support, with prominent anti-toll-roader Sen. Robert Nichols, D-Jacksonville, and his fellow committee Dems, El Paso's Eliot Shapleigh and Houston's Rodney Ellis, joining two GOPers on the committee, Plano's Florence Shapiro and Fort Worth's Kim Brimer, in voicing serious doubts about multiple passages. Ellis has already said that he could not vote for the bill as it stands.

Even if it gets through the committee, it may face a tough time on the Senate floor. Last Thursday, Nichols got SB 1267, a two-year moratorium on awarding new toll-road contracts, passed. Even though it came with some big waivers for projects near the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and El Paso, it still proved that there's a lack of legislative will to sign over huge chunks of the Texas road system to profit-making corporations for 50 years.

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