November 26, 2019 - TRA Newswire -

Speaker of the Texas House Dennis Bonnen has announced the Interim Charges for House Committees, ahead of the 2021 legislative session.  Rail has been excluded from upcoming hearings, again. A letter signed by 20 Central Texas State Representatives asking for an Interim Charge to investigate passenger rail service in the Austin-San Antonio corridor failed to make an impression with the speaker.

"This is disappointing, considering that a bipartisan group of 20 state representatives asked for hearings to determine if there is potential for anything other than more highway construction between Austin to San Antonio in this extremely crowded corridor," according to Texas Rail Advocates President Peter LeCody. "Failure to look any any other means to move people off of jammed roads and onto trains will catch up with the state in the coming years. It;s cute to look at what Texas will be like in the coming decades with self-driving cars but that doesn't solve any issue of moving thousands of motorists off future overcrowded highways."

The charges for the House Transportation Committee, headed up by Chairman Terry Canales (D) Edinburg, will focus on toll projects, the state highway system, outdoor advertising signs, self driving vehicles and the states' seaports.

The Senate came out with their list of Interim Charges several weeks ago and rail was not considered from the upper chamber.

Here is the text on the Interim Charges for transportation.

1. Monitor the agencies and programs under the Committee's jurisdiction and oversee the
implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 86th Legislature. Conduct active
oversight of all associated rulemaking and other governmental actions taken to ensure
intended legislative outcome of all legislation, including the following:\

• HB 803 and SB 198, which relate to toll project financial reporting and use payments.
Monitor the effectiveness of the tools available to Texas toll project entities for
enforcing unpaid tolls while protecting customer rights.

• SB 282 and SB 962, which relate to the funding for the State Highway Fund. Study the
current mix of user fee-based funding for the state highway system, including
registration fees, tolls, and fuel tax, and determine if current funding generated is
sufficient to maintain cost demands. Examine whether current legislative
appropriations, including projections for Proposition 1 (severance tax) and
Proposition 7 (sales tax) funds, are keeping pace with Texas' highway funding needs
to accommodate population and economic development growth. Make
recommendations for additional methods of funding or innovative tools that the state
could utilize to deliver road infrastructure projects.

• SB 357, which relates to outdoor advertising signs. Monitor the Texas Department of
Transportation's implementation of the new statutory requirements set forth in the
legislation, including any related rulemaking.

2. Study the state's transportation and road safety efforts in support of the Texas Transportation
Commission's goal of ending traffic deaths in the state by 2050. Identify the most dangerous
roads and transportation corridors in the state and determine opportunities to reduce high
rates of traffic accidents and fatalities in these areas. Make recommendations to improve
policies, funding strategies, program development, and agency coordination to ensure
continuous improvements to road safety.

3. Study the technology and safety aspects of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles,
including predictive capabilities and the potential for dedicated freeway and surface lanes for
public transportation, autonomous vehicles, and semi-autonomous vehicles. Make
recommendations for optimizing state policy to prepare for varying vehicle technologies to
ensure safety and traffic reliability on Texas roadways.

4. Study the state's seaport infrastructure and the infrastructure at land ports of entry to
facilitate international trade and economic growth. Examine seaport infrastructure and the
auxiliary rail and roadway needs connected to each port as well as the port's ability to keep
pace with oil and gas production. Make recommendations to maximize the economic flow of
goods and products to and from seaports and study the feasibility and economic impact of
dredging and widening Texas ports in order to remain competitive in international trade.
Examine the infrastructure at international border ports of entry in Texas and identify
transportation-related impediments to international trade that negatively impact the state.
Make recommendations to reduce border wait times, facilitate economic growth, and
expedite trade. (Joint charge with the House Committee on International Relations &
Economic Development)

5. Monitor the State Auditor's review of agencies and programs under the Committee's
jurisdiction. The Chair shall seek input and periodic briefings on completed audits for the
2019 and 2020 fiscal years and bring forth pertinent issues for full committee consideration.