Joe Pickett

  • Anti-toll legislation makes its way onto must-pass TxDOT sunset bill

    IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    Contact: Terri Hall, Director, Texas TURF, &
    Texans for Toll-free Highways
    (210) 275-0640
    Anti-toll legislation makes its way onto must-pass TxDOT Sunset Bill

    Taxpayers finally caught a break in Texas, especially toll-weary commuters. After fighting for common sense toll road reforms for over a decade, the grassroots through Texas TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways made major strides in killing public private partnership (P3) toll roads and gaining ground on several key anti-toll reforms, like removing tolls from roads that are paid for like Camino Columbia in Laredo.

    State agencies come under sunset periodic review. Senate Bill 312 involves the continuation and functions of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and gives lawmakers the ability to tack on just about any transportation bill to it — good and bad. It's also must-pass legislation or the highway department goes away. While five anti-toll bills successfully passed the Texas Senate this session, none have been heard in the House. So lawmakers pounced on the opportunity to get stalled bills moving through amendments to SB 312. 

    The pro-toll crowd sought to resurrect corporate toll roads by authorizing P3s once again and even granting broader authority to do so. Lawmakers just voted down a P3 bill HB 2861 by Rep. Larry Phillips just days before, forcing taxpayers to mount an offensive to kill such sweetheart deals again. An amendment by Rep. Dade Phelan was most troubling actually requiring taxpayers to guarantee the loans and bonds of the private toll companies and gave authority to enter into multiple contracts every year with no sunset date.
  • Chair wants tolls to come off, says tolls cause congestion

    Transportation Chair wants tolls to come down, insists tolls cause congestion
    By Terri Hall
    August 31, 2016

    As toll weary Texans anxiously await Governor Greg Abbott’s promise to fix our roads without tolls to come to fruition, House Transportation Committee Chair Joe Pickett is one of the few taking action to make it happen. At yesterday’s House Transportation Committee meeting, Pickett continued his war against toll ‘managed’ lanes on several fronts.

    First, he argued that tolls are actually causing congestion on some roads.

    “Toll projects actually exacerbate congestion. The one in my community does,” proclaimed a determined Pickett. Pickett’s referring to the Cesar Chavez Border Highway toll managed lane project where only 6% of traffic utilizes the lanes, leaving 94% of commuters stuck in congestion.

    Pickett told KVIA News in El Paso last year that, “Things have changed and if you want to lessen congestion, you open up the roads to everyone.”
  • End to exorbitant toll fines in sight? AG may decide

    Link to article here.

    RELIEF COMING? Ending exorbitant toll fines and fees may be decided by Texas Attorney General

    By Terri Hall
    September 15, 2017

    It’s been a long time coming, but Texas commuters may finally cut a break when it comes to relief from exorbitant toll fines and fees. Texas State Rep. Joe Pickett, former House Transportation Committee Chair, fired off a request for an official legal opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton this week to see if the caps on toll fines and fees in Senate Bill 312 apply to other toll entities besides the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Pickett’s House colleagues Rep. Ina Minjarez, Rep. Tom Oliverson, and Rep. Tony Dale joined him in signing the letter.

    The Texas legislature passed SB 312 in May during the 85th legislative session, and it contains a strong toll collection reform capping the administrative fees imposed on drivers to just $48/year and $250/year in criminal penalties. But one section of the bill references another section of the transportation code that says an entity operating a toll lane has the same powers and duties regarding toll collection as TxDOT. That’s the hook anti-toll advocates are hoping will force the law to apply to all toll agencies, not just TxDOT when it comes to taming the out of control, excessive fines and fees being tacked onto toll bills across the state.
  • TxDOT bill hijacked by toll lobby, loopholes diminish anti-toll progress

    Hastily approved TxDOT sunset bill offers some toll relief, but riddled with new loopholes
    By Terri Hall
    May 28, 2017

    As the Texas legislature comes to a close tomorrow, the antics of some lawmakers warrants scrutiny when it comes to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) sunset bill, SB 312, that passed yesterday evening. The House passed a strong anti-toll bill May 17, adding several good anti-toll measures pushed by grassroots pro-taxpayer groups for over a decade. SB 312 must pass or the highway department goes away. Rather than concur with the House version, the Senate chose to reject the House version (which signaled trouble ahead), forcing both the House and Senate to appoint a conference committee to work out the differences in the bill.

    This is where the chicanery usually happens, and it did.
  • VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott's vision for toll-free future

    IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    CONTACT: Terri Hall, (210) 275-0640
    Defeat of private toll road bill affirms Abbott's pledge to voters 
    Promise to fix roads without new tolls or debt gets bipartisan support

    (Austin, TX - Friday, May 5, 2017) Texas taxpayers can breathe a sigh of relief tonight as a bipartisan effort to defeat expansion of private toll roads in Texas went down in flames by a vote of 79-51 in the Texas House. Taxpayer champions Rep. Jeff Leach (R - Plano), Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R - Bedford), and Rep. Joe Pickett (D - El Paso) led the floor fight, noting 90% of Democrats and 95% of Republicans oppose new toll roads in Texas, and both party platforms oppose privatized toll roads in particular. Governor Greg Abbott promised to fix Texas roads without new tolls or debt, and the Texas House delivered on that promise today by killing Rep. Larry Phillips HB 2861.

    Pickett and Stickland made impassioned speeches opposing the bill. Leach emphasized both party platforms oppose this type of toll project and that the voters just gave the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) $5 billion a year in new funding by passing Proposition 1 and Proposition 7.
  • Victory! Tolls come off several Texas highways

    Tolls come down: Precedent set as toll comes off two Texas highways
    By Terri Hall
    August 19, 2017

    The bureaucrats couldn’t fight the momentum. Texans have been calling for tolls to come off roads once they’re paid for and thanks to passage of Senate Bill 312, the Texas Transportation Commission voted to do just that on Camino Colombia SH 255 in Laredo and on Cesar Chavez Border Highway in El Paso. To add icing on the cake, the Dallas City Council also voted to deep six the controversial Trinity Toll Road after a 20 year battle, and the Commission is also mulling changing plans on US 183 North in Austin to expand it as non-toll instead of tolled. All that in a matter of weeks.

    The last time tolls were removed from a road in Texas was in 1977 — forty years ago. But it’s not without some wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Commission that governs it.

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