Governor’s Transportation Commission convenes in Conroe

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For the second year in a row, the Texas Transportation Commission held its January meeting in the Houston area. This 5-member body, appointed by the Governor, typically meets in Austin, but met Thu Jan 26, 2006 at the Conroe convention center. I managed to sit through the first six hours as they considered and decided many aspects of state transportation policy. I learned:

  • Congress, with a recent Defense act, is rescinding ~$2 billion previously programmed in the SAFETEA-LU transportation reauthorization bill. Texas will lose ~$159 million in federal transportation funds.
  • SB1713 created a transporation financing study commission. So far, the Governor has appointed Warren Chisholm, Robert Eckels, Mike Krusee, Ted Houghton, and William Addon(?) to evaluate the ability of the gas tax to meet our transportation needs, review expenditures from the state highway fund, recommend ways to fund the new rail fund, and review financing options for all transportation-related expenditures. The commission is expected to prepare recommendations by Dec 2006.
  • TxDOT will ask the Commission to approve state legislative priorities at its Feb 23 meeting in Austin. The list includes funding for rail projects, increased use of toll financing, “e-tags,” and allowing Texas counties to plan for large corridors (“it would be nice to have the ability to buy corridor property from a willing seller in advance”). TxDOT’s Government and Business Enterprises Division Director Coby Chase said he and the State Legislative Affairs Manager, Jefferson Grimes will be happy to answer questions about the legislative agenda.
  • There is widespread fraudulent use of temporary license tags (dealers, new buyers, and converters) ranging from personal use of untitled vehicles, to toll theft, to outright criminal action. Generic temporary tags impair law enforcement. TxDOT has designed new temp tags with individual control numbers for use until the state adopts e-tags. The commissioners approved the new design.
  • In 2005, the Lege mandated a priority boarding program for the Port Aransas and Galveston/Bolivar ferries. TxDOT’s proposed program would allow individuals to buy priority passes starting at $400/year. Port Aransas leaders are eager for the program to start, with some businesses volunteering to buy passes for their employees. Bolivar leaders are concerned that most Bolivar residents cannot afford the proposed fee. The commissioners deferred approval until February to allow more discussion of options.
  • Also in 2005, the Lege mandated that TxDOT outsource manufacturing and sale of specialty (“vanity”) license plates to a private company, Effective Telemarketing Inc. (ETI). Under the new plan, specialty tag buyers will pay $25 more each year (but receive no additional service). ETI will get all of the $25 the first year; in subsequent years, ETI will get 70% ($17.50) and the the other 30% ($7.50) will go to general revenue. None of the incremental increase goes to transportation funding. The commissioners deferred voting on the new fees for a month to ensure agency partners were aware of the proposed changes.
  • Gas tax is remitted to the state directly by the ~33 refineries in the state, rather than trickling up from the retail pump level. These companies not only get to sit on this revenue for ~30 days, collecting interest on the sweep, but also refineries are entitled to ~$100 million/year in fees (for administration and prompt payment). That’s a better deal than Target or Best Buy gets for the same service.

I have ~16 pages of notes from this meeting. Please let me know if you would like a copy. Eventually, an official transcript will be available on the Commission’s website at

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