News Release

TexPIRG calls on the Legislature to stop the road privatization bill in its tracks

For Immediate Release

Senate Bill 17 contains loopholes that will open up Texas’ roadways to private investment by permitting TxDOT to avoid upholding public protections from these harmful private toll road deals. TexPIRG's is calling on the Legislature to stop the road privatization bill in its tracks.

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Dear Member of the Texas State Legislature,

We write to alert you of a pending bill that acknowledges the need to protect Texans against the dangers of private toll roads, but contains important clauses that seriously undermine this goal. We urge removal of these few clauses in SB 17 (HB 2929) before the bill is taken up for final consideration.

1. The currently worded bill contains provisions for rules that would force the state to pay private road operators if construction of nearby public roads competes with their toll traffic revenues.

SECTION 14.  Sections 371.103 (b) and (c), Transportation Code, as added by Section 11.01, Chapter 264 (S.B. 792), Acts of the 80th Legislature, Regular Session, 2007, are amended to read as follows:
(b)  Except as provided by Subsection (c), a comprehensive development agreement may contain a provision authorizing the toll project entity to compensate the private participant in the agreement for the loss of toll revenues attributable to the construction by the entity of a limited access highway project located within an area that extends up to four miles from either side of the centerline of the project developed under the agreement, less the private participant's decreased operating and maintenance costs attributable to the highway project, if any.  A provision under this subsection may be effective only for a period of 30 years or less from the effective date of the agreement.

2. Two clauses undermine safeguards that allow public road authorities to have the first chance at building new roads. It empowers TxDOT or the private toll entity to ignore any parts of the process or timeline laid out in the bill. We think that vital public protections regarding for private toll road deals spanning decades should not be waived without legislative approval.

Sec.  373.057.  ALTERATION OF PROCESS.  (a)  The department or the applicable local toll project entity may waive any step or steps of the process under this subchapter.
(b)  The department and the applicable toll project entity may, by written agreement, extend any time limit under this subchapter.
 
3.  Another clause enables either TxDOT or the commission to waive requirements that private land owners receive restitution if their property is seized to build new toll roads.

    Sec. 373.102 (e)  The commission or department may waive the requirement of reimbursement under this section.

Subsequent conversations with legal counsel have confirmed our concerns and not produced alternative interpretations of these clauses. The Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) urges all members of the State Legislature to remove these clauses from the bill.

Texans have made it clear they do not want toll roads. According to the 2008 Texas Lyceum Poll, 66% or respondents oppose tolls on new roads (including 46% who "strongly" oppose them) and 69% of Texans oppose tolls on existing roads (including 53% who "strongly" oppose them). The Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) has many concerns with private road deals, some of which are detailed in the attached fact sheet "Private Roads, Public Costs."

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this important matter.

Sincerely,

Melissa Cubria
Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG)

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