The Texas Green Report will run a series of articles to help everyone understand the new transportation laws that resulted from the 82nd Legislature regular and special session. A report containing more specific information on all of the bills will be published at the conclusion of this series.
TxDOT Sunset (SB 1420)
This bill addresses many of the concerns expressed in the 2009 Sunset Review and the interim report. These include transparency, accountability, fraud, waste, ethics rules and financial responsibility. Planning processes must include measurable goals and a participation plan that accounts for all stakeholders and the public.
Design-build authority is granted in the bill. The number of design build projects let cannot exceed three per year (this limit expires in 2015). Design-build, quoting from the bill, “means a project delivery method by which an entity contracts with a single entity to provide both design and construction services for the construction, rehabilitation, alteration, or repair of a facility.” The usual process is to let the design for the facility and then to let it for bids for implementation. This eliminates one of the letting processes.
TxDOT receives additional authorization for Comprehensive Development Agreement implementation. A comprehensive development agreement (CDA) enables financing and private investment in the transportation system, often for toll facilities. CDA authority was provided for 11 projects mainly in the metropolitan areas of the state: four in Houston area, three in North Texas, two in Central Texas, and two in South Texas. Except for the Grand Parkway, environmental clearance of a project must be achieved before August 31, 2013 on the projects. And, except for the Grand Parkway, the CDA authority expires August 31, 2015.
The Texas Transportation Commission must establish standards to process environmental review documents. These standards must “increase efficiency, minimize delays, and encourage collaboration and cooperation by the department with a local government sponsor, with a goal of prompt approval of legally sufficient documents.” The bill also gives TxDOT review deadlines and time frames for dispute resolution.
There is no change to the composition of the Texas Transportation Commission. It remains at five members designated by the Governor. At least one of the Commissioners must be from a rural county (fewer than 150,000 population).
Emergency transportation management issues were also addressed. TxDOT now has authority to designate wildfire evacuation routes on federal, state and county roads.
The Highway Beautification Fund was moved into the State Highway Fund from the General Revenue Fund. TxDOT must now administer the outdoor sign program.
TxDOT will undergo review again in 2015 to monitor progress on the changes. This is significantly shorter than the usual twelve year period between Sunset Reviews. Massive restructuring and internal policy changes called for in the previous Sunset review and interim report benefit from more frequent monitoring and evaluation.
Kari Banta, Transportation Associate