Transportation Funding Friction

Toll-road frustration leads to blow up in House Transportation Committee meeting

Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, navigates turbulent transporation terrain in the Lege.
Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, navigates turbulent transporation terrain in the Lege. (Photo By John Anderson)

Tuesday should have been a gold star day at the House Transportation Committee, one that would finally put the Texas Department of Transportation and the Texas Transportation Institute in the same room at the same time to duel it out over the long-term scenarios for how to pay for the cost of highways in Texas.

Instead, a couple of lawmakers – first Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, and then Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas – turned Texas Transp-ortation Commission Chair Ric Williamson into a human piñata in their frustration over Texas toll roads. First, Harper-Brown, a longtime Irving City Council member, berated Williamson over a document – which Williamson unwisely called "foolish" – that indicated that Dallas received $4.5 billion less over the last five years for transportation funding than it would have under the past system of parceling out federal funds, often referred to as the "fair share" system.

As state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, and others explained it, federal funding has changed. Once, it was based on where the TTC chair lived and how he could earmark funds for his region. A Dallas chair would be named, and funds would shift to Dallas. A Houston chair would be named, and those funds would shift back to Houston.

Under the new funding formula – which is intended to localize transportation decision-making and decrease the "begging" of regional delegations before the TTC – the focus is not how to spend available money, but how to address the transportation plans of a particular region, Krusee said. According to the numbers, the biggest beneficiary of this approach has been the Austin region.

Later, Krusee gave Carona, the chair of the Senate Committee on Transportation & Homeland Security, a chance to address some comments to Williamson. Carona pressed Williamson for a meeting this week, saying Williamson's office said he was booked through March. Williamson, never one to be backed into a corner, attempted to brush off the request, saying simply that he'd call Carona's office to set up a time for a meeting. It was not a meeting, Williamson said, but simply a call to set up a meeting.

"It is this kind of lack of commitment and artful dodging for something as basic as an appointment to meet with you [that] causes the hostility and the friction that exists right now," said Carona, who has filed some distinctly anti-toll-road legislation this session. "The fact that you would sit there and be so arrogant that you would not even commit to a meeting date when I'm telling you that over the next several days I'll be available at any time that will work for you is very troubling."

To this, Williamson could only say, "Thank you." When pressed again for a commitment for a meeting, he replied, "Frankly, senator, I'm speechless."

The confrontation was the talk around the Capitol. Most long-term observers were nonplussed. "There's a reason why we used to call him Nitro Williamson," said one former colleague-turned-lobbyist.

As to the difference between the projections of need by TxDOT and the Texas Transportation Institute – TxDOT says the state would need a $1.40 gas tax to cover the gap; TTI says it would require a 10 cent gas tax increase plus ongoing increases indexed to highway costs – the numbers are closer than they might appear on first blush.

As both Williamson and TTI's Dennis Christiansen pointed out, the assumptions in the two reports are different. While both start with the same general level of need – an additional $86 billion in new roads by 2030 – TTI assumes that local jurisdictions will pick up a third of that cost, through toll roads, local-option gas tax, or simply general revenue expenditures backed by property taxes. The two reports also tinker with issues such as the fuel efficiency of fleet vehicles and other such numbers.

The bottom line on the TTI report projects that the gas tax on the $56 billion in identified needs – the initial 10 cents plus increases as needed – would be about 90 cents a gallon by 2030. The highest rate in the country right now is 33 cents.

  • More of the Story

  • Naked City

    Democrats' Suit Demands State 'Fix' Voting Machines

    Party says eSlate has flawed method of recording votes
  • Tort-Reform Folly

    According to new report on state's tort-reform measures, Perry's promise that frivolous lawsuits and high medical-malpractice insurance rates for docs are down and that the recruitment of specialists is apparently on the rise are promises that haven't panned out

    National Spotlight Shines on Detention Center

    Things are getting dicey at Immigration and Customs Enforcement-affiliated facility in Taylor

    Prevention First

    Legislation filed on Capitol Hill would expand family-planning funding, require health insurers to include contraceptive coverage, and more

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More House Transportation Committee
Toll Roads May Take a (Minor) Detour
Toll Roads May Take a (Minor) Detour
Krusee contemplates changing strategy, but not retreat

Kimberly Reeves, Sept. 3, 2004

Transportation and Land Use: Immobilized
Transportation and Land Use: Immobilized
Pouring concrete at the Lege is not as easy as it looks.

Mike Clark-Madison, April 11, 2003

More by Kimberly Reeves
Westside Residents Turn to Lege to Escape From Austin
Westside Residents Turn to Lege to Escape From Austin
Homeowners living in some of the city's priciest lakeside properties want to ditch the city's tax roll

April 9, 2021

Charter School Approval Sparks More Debate
Charter School Approval Sparks More Debate
Williamson County charter school wins approval, but the charter school issue in general remains contentious

Jan. 9, 2009

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

House Transportation Committee, Texas Department of Transportation, Texas Transportation Institute, Linda Harper-Brown, John Carona, Ric Williamson, toll roads, Dennis Christiansen

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle