Sunset Staff: Scrap TTC, Overhaul TxDoT

Legislature's Sunset Commission staff make their sweeping recommendations for state transportation agencies

Sunset for TxDoT?
Sunset for TxDoT?

The Sunset Advisory Commission, the quietly powerful lege committee that can mean life or death for a state agency, has released its staff report on the Texas Department of Transportation, and it's a pretty serious "could do better" moment for the agency.

The staff report highlights six key issues of concern, from management practice to contract allocation. But the theme throughout is the same: a lack of public accessibility and accountability. The big take-away item is that they want the Texas Transportation Commission to be disbanded and replaced by a single commissioner. They also want a new Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee to be formed and mandated to have an oversight role over TxDoT. It would also be given the job of researching transportation, meaning it would no longer be up to TxDoT.

The message is clear: "Until trust in the Texas Department of Transportation is restored, the state cannot move forward to effectively meet its growing transportation needs." It's carried right through the recommendations, from setting better and more measurable bench-marks for projects, to making their website clearer. Now it's just a question of whether the legislators on Sunset pick up the sword that staff are offering to them.

Visit the commission website for the full version, or read the highlights after the jump.

Issue 1
Until Trust in the Texas Department of Transportation Is Restored, the State Cannot Move Forward to Effectively Meet Its Growing Transportation Needs.

Key Recommendations
- Abolish the Texas Transportation Commission and replace it with an appointed Commissioner of Transportation.
- Establish a Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee to provide necessary oversight of the Department and the state’s transportation system.
- Require the Transportation Legislative Oversight Committee to review and comment on TxDOT’s research program, including individual research projects and activities.
- The Sunset Commission should recommend that the Legislature directly fund the Texas Transportation Institute to conduct transportation research previously contracted through TxDOT.
- Continue TxDOT for four years.

Issue 2
The State’s Complicated Transportation Planning and Project Development Process Frustrates Understanding of How Important Decisions Are Made.

Key Recommendations
- Require TxDOT to redevelop and regularly update the long-range Statewide Transportation Plan describing total system needs, establishing overarching statewide transportation goals, and measuring progress toward those goals.
- Establish a transparent, well-defined, and understandable system of project programming within TxDOT that integrates project milestones, forecasts, and priorities.
- Require TxDOT districts to develop detailed work programs driven by milestones for major projects and other statewide goals for smaller projects.
- Require TxDOT, with input from transportation partners and policymakers, to develop a system to measure and report on progress in meeting transportation goals and milestones.
- Require TxDOT to establish, and provide funding and support for, transportation planning in rural areas of the state.

Issue 3
TxDOT Does Not Meet the High Expectations Placed on It to Ensure Consistent, Meaningful Public Involvement.

Key Recommendations
- Require TxDOT to develop and implement a public involvement policy that guides and encourages more meaningful public involvement efforts agency-wide.
- Require TxDOT to develop standard procedures for documenting complaints and for tracking and analyzing complaint data.
- TxDOT should provide a formal process for staff with similar responsibilities to share best practices information.
- TxDOT should provide central coordination of the Department’s major marketing campaigns.
- TxDOT should make its website easier to use.

Issue 4
Elements of TxDOT’s Contracting Functions Lack Efficiency and Could Expose the State to Unacceptable Levels of Risk.

Key Recommendations
- Relax restrictions on TxDOT’s contracting practices by authorizing the use of design-build contracts for traditionally funded highway projects and removing requirements to advertise contract notifications and solicitations in newspapers.
- TxDOT should improve the consistency and efficiency of its professional services contracting by setting timeframes for key stages in its contracting process.
- Reduce contract risk and improve TxDOT’s contract management by increasing staff overseeing professional services contracts; strengthening oversight and training for professional services contracts; and establishing an external process for reviewing comprehensive development agreements.

Issue 5
Key Elements of TxDOT’s Regulation of Motor Vehicle Dealers, Salvage Vehicle Dealers, and Household Goods Carriers Do Not Conform to Commonly Applied Licensing Practices.

Key Recommendations
- TxDOT needs to provide necessary resources to enforce its statutory provisions regarding salvage vehicle dealers.
- Standardize licensing provisions by requiring a surety bond for certain franchise dealers and establishing a process for informing the public whether household goods carriers conduct criminal history checks on their employees.
- Update enforcement practices to enable regulation of motor vehicle advertisements and to provide new tools for taking action against motor vehicle dealers and household goods carriers.

Issue 6
Key Elements of TxDOT’s Regulation of Outdoor Advertising Do Not Conform to Commonly Applied Licensing Practices.

Key Recommendations
- Standardize administration of outdoor advertising regulation by requiring an outdoor advertising license for rural roads and depositing all fees to the General Revenue-Dedicated Texas Highway Beautification Account.
- Authorize the Department to deny license renewal if a licensee’s permits are in poor standing.
- Update enforcement practices by requiring the Department to develop complaints procedures, authorizing the use of standard administrative penalties, and depositing all program fines into the General Revenue-Dedicated Texas Highway Beautification Account.
- TxDOT should centralize the program, better track total program costs and raise fees to recover costs, and scale enforcement actions to the seriousness of the offense.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Transportation, Legislature, TxDoT, Sunset Commission, Texas Transportation Commission

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