DALLAS — The Texas Department of Transportation would get another $3 billion of bond authorization under a proposal from the chairman of the state Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, but he said finding a long-term solution to the chronic problem of highway funding is not likely in the current session.
Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, said lawmakers should authorize $3 billion of Proposition 12 bonds.
The proposition, which was approved by Texas voters in 2007, is the constitutional amendment providing for the issuance of up to $5 billion of general obligation bonds by the Texas Transportation Commission.
The commission is administered by executive director Deirdre Delisi and a five-member board.
If lawmakers follow Williams’ proposal, it would exhaust the supply of Proposition 12 bonds.
In 2009, legislators authorized TxDOT to finance projects with $2 billion from Proposition 12 bonds, but they only set aside debt service for $1 billion.
Williams agreed that the state needs to find a more sustainable way of maintaining and building highways for the growing population. But he added: “My sense is that that is not going to be an issue that we get an opportunity to address in this legislative session.”
Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, where the funding proposal was discussed, said he supported Williams’ proposal.
Lawmakers in 2009 had sought to place $1 billion of Proposition 12 bond proceeds in a state infrastructure bank, but those bonds have not been sold, and Ogden said the plan is unlikely now.
While the current two-year budget provides $18.7 billion in TxDOT appropriations, Williams’ recommendations would boost that to $19.5 billion in the next two-year budget now under consideration, Ogden said.
Williams is new to the chairmanship of the Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, replacing Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, who proposed raising the state fuel tax to finance highway construction. Carona also pushed Senate Bill 792 which placed a moratorium on private toll roads and redefined how tollways would be funded.
In North Texas, where two public-private partnerships were already in the works when SB 792 passed, Spanish developer Cintra is taking a lead role on the projects worth an estimated $5 billion.
But Texas lawmakers have never overturned the moratorium on private toll-road development statewide.
Without new funding sources, TxDOT has said that it will not be able to undertake any new projects after this year and will focus only on maintenance.
Because the North Texas region that includes Dallas-Fort Worth is relying so heavily on toll roads, it is getting short shrift in funding from the Texas Department of Transportation, some regional leaders say.
Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said that of $1 billion in previous bonds issued for state highway projects, only $157 million went to Dallas-Fort Worth.
Shapiro’s hometown, a northern Dallas suburb, is the headquarters for the North Texas Tollway Authority, which has become the de facto highway builder in the region, along with Cintra.
One transportation proposal that appears to be fading in the current session is to replace the five-member TTC board with a single, unelected transportation czar who would supposedly streamline the decision-making process by avoiding meetings and public discussions of how funds would be allocated.
The proposal to allow a gubernatorial appointee to make all the decisions about transportation in the state was contained in a sunset bill designed to reorganize the Texas Department of Transportation. However, a committee removed the proposal from the Senate’s version of the sunset bill last week.