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Lawmaker sets sights on transportation department

FORT WORTH -- The Texas Department of Transportation has done more harm to the public's trust of state government than any other agency and needs to be overhauled, Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, said Wednesday.

Harper-Brown also told the Tarrant Regional Transportation Coalition on Wednesday that the Transportation Department has failed to build roads necessary to reduce congestion, and has overstated its financial problems to win public support for toll roads.

"TxDot used to be a premier agency in America. It's not any more. Other states have better roads," Harper-Brown told the group.

Harper-Brown is a member of the Sunset Review Commission, which periodically reviews state agencies to determine whether they're still necessary. Commission members are expected to grill Transportation Department officials during hearings this summer.

Harper-Brown said she is researching how agencies in states such as Florida build and manage their transportation projects while sticking to firm deadlines and keeping lawmakers and the public informed about finances.

She said the Texas Transportation Department lacks transparency about its finances and often refuses to answer basic questions from lawmakers. "If there is not a major change at TxDot, I'm not sure the Legislature will vote to give them more money."

Several Tarrant County officials agreed with Harper-Brown about the need for better oversight, but defended Transportation Department officials in the Fort Worth district, which serves Tarrant and eight other area counties.

They asked Harper-Brown to protect the region's existing agreements with the state Transportation Department, including an agreement with the North Texas Tollway Authority to build Texas 121 in Denton and Collin counties and generate $3.2 billion for other regional projects.

North Texas leaders want to keep that money in North Texas, not in Austin where it could be taken for other state needs, Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley told Harper-Brown.