DALLAS - Gov. Rick Perry has fortified his ranks on the Texas Transportation Commission with the appointment of two board members, as lawmakers prepare for a showdown over private toll roads.

Perry, a strong supporter of privately financed tollways, named his former chief of staffDeirdre Delisi to chair the TTC, which was previously led by Perry's vocal ally, the late Ric Williamson.

Delisi, 35, who holds a masters degree in international policy studies from Stanford University, worked for Perry for nine years and directed his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. He also was a policy adviser to the presidential campaigns of Lamar Alexander and President Bush, Perry's predecessor as governor. Delisi replaces interim chairwoman Hope Andrade, who filled the position after Williamson's death in December.

Perry last week also named William Meadows, vice chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority, to the TTC board. The appointment of Meadows, who lives in Fort Worth, was seen as a response to complaints from the North Texas region about lack of representation on the TTC, which decides policy for the Texas Department of Transportation.

"I am confident their contribution to the commission will maintain the momentum of the late commissioner Ric Williamson's pioneering vision, and secure comprehensive transportation solutions that will reduce traffic congestion, improve safety, and keep our state's doors open to economic growth and success," Perry said in naming the two.

But the appointments met with mixed reviews. State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, anticipating Delisi's appointment, said that TTC leadership was too important to entrust to a "political hack."

In an editorial, the San Antonio Express-News deplored "the selection of a chairman based on cronyism" that will "further erode public trust."

Praising the appointment of Meadows from the North Texas region, the Dallas Morning News wrote that Delisi will face a challenge in proving she deserves the position for more than her political connections.

"Texas' road-funding picture is a mess, and counterproductive political wrestling matches won't help unsnarl one traffic jam," the News editorial warned.

The battle over the future of Texas transportation funding will come in the 2009 session of the Legislature, when a two-year moratorium on most private toll-road funding ends. By then, Carona's Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee is supposed to have a list of recommendations based on its study of the issues.

SB 792, pushed through the final days of the 2007 session by Carona, imposed the moratorium and rewrote the law on how toll projects are to be awarded. That bill created tension between TxDOT and regional toll agencies, particularly the North Texas Tollway Authority.

As an NTTA board member, Meadows has seen both sides of the dispute on projects such as the $5 billion State Highway 121, which was awarded to the authority after being stripped from private developer Cintra.

 

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