Transportation and Land Use: Immobilized

Pouring concrete at the Lege is not as easy as it looks.

Transportation and Land Use: Immobilized
Illustration By Doug Potter

Normally, rolling the pork barrel is a pastime that knows no ideology. So on the infrastructure front, the regime change at the Capitol should make little difference. But there ain't nothing but salt in the pork barrel right now, and the state has been trying for years to shove more of its road-building duties onto the cities and counties. This has proved to be a complicated endeavor that takes several sessions.

Witness the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, whose new board twiddles its thumbs while the Lege tries to give RMAs, designed to allow counties to work together to build shared roads (in the local case, U.S. 183-A through Cedar Park), the customary powers -- including bonding authority and the right of eminent domain -- needed to actually build roads. Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, chair of the House Transportation Committee, who wrote the 2001 RMA Act, has hit some potholes trying to fix its problems -- largely because Krusee's bills were written to address our specific needs, and other parts of the state want their yet-to-be-born RMAs to do bigger and better things than build a single toll road. Like, for example, absorbing the Dallas and Fort Worth transit authorities. Plus, it's now clear that to make the RMA financial model work -- basically, Travis Co. pays for a Williamson Co. road -- will require a constitutional amendment; Krusee's HJR 80 sits in committee.

Likewise, plans for SH 130 to include a rail corridor have been stymied because the Texas Dept. of Transportation can't legally build rail lines; Rep. Robert Puente's corrective, HB 3085, languishes in Krusee's committee. The rail line Puente cares about would serve the new Toyota plant in San Antonio; Gov. Rick Perry last week signed into law a raid on the Smart Jobs Fund, designed for workforce development, to pay for the Toyota train. Oh, what a feeling. Now, SH 130 is, or may be, part of Perry's Trans Texas Corridor project to blanket the state with 1,500-foot-wide ribbons of multimodal concrete, to be paid for by the magic of free enterprise. It's also not quite legal -- a clutch of bills to enable the corridor scheme sits in Krusee's committee and on the desk of his Senate comrade, Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, who chairs the Infrastructure Development and Security panel. But not everything is in limbo; HB 1208 (Lewis), which would enable high-occupancy toll lanes, exclusive truck lanes, and other next-generation congestion solutions, has made it out of the House.

On the land-use front, it's probably best that things are in limbo. Sen. Jeff Wentworth's SB 544, which would gut the right of big cities (i.e., Austin) to regulate development in their extraterritorial jurisdictions (unless the counties ask them to, basically), still sits in committee. But a much-needed bill sits right next to it: Sen. Ken Armbrister's SB 991, which would make it legal for cities to include design and appearance standards as part of zoning ordinances. (The House companion bill is headed for the floor.) One long-held goal of conservatives -- a mandate that municipal annexation be subject to voter approval by the affected citizens -- is also headed to the House floor; HB 586 is a committee substitute for a much more anodyne, Democrat-authored original.

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