TxDoT SUNSET BILL: RED LIGHT CAMERAS, BILLBOARDS, AND MORE
The TxDoT “sunset” bill, H.B. 300, passed the Texas House on May 11 on a 138-6 vote. Buried in this massive bill are the following city-related provisions.
- If outdoor advertising located in a city or the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction must be removed because of the widening, construction, or reconstruction of a road, and if relocation of the outdoor advertising would be allowed under TxDoT rules but is prohibited by charter, ordinance, or a decision of the city, the city shall pay just compensation: (a) to the owner of the outdoor advertising for the right, title leasehold, and interest in the outdoor advertising; and (b) to the owner or, if appropriate, the lessee of the real property on which the outdoor advertising is located, for the right to erect and maintain the outdoor advertising.
(This provision would shift one of the incidental costs of Texas highway projects from the state to cities. These provisions would force an unfunded mandate on Texas cities and deny city officials the authority to decide what the landscape of their city will look like. Essentially, these sections single out the billboard industry for special treatment and grant that industry greater rights than any other use along a highway. Special treatment for one industry is bad public policy and runs afoul of sound transportation planning.)
- The rights associated with an off-premise sign that is lawfully in existence but no longer complies with current applicable laws and regulations, including those enacted by a city, vest in the owner of the off-premise sign.
- TxDoT shall have jurisdiction over red light camera systems in this state and shall adopt rules governing them, including: (a) the specifications for the systems; (b) the identification of intersections where a system may be installed; and (c) the operation and maintenance of the systems.
- TxDoT may not approve the implementation or operation of a red light camera system that was not in operation on June 1, 2009, or for which a contract for the administration or enforcement of the system had not been entered into by a local authority on or before that date.
- A city may not enter into or renew a contract for the administration or enforcement of a red light camera system after June 1, 2009.
- TxDoT by rule shall require that the change interval of a traffic light equipped with a red light camera system must be at least one second longer than the minimum change interval established in accordance with the Texas Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.
Items 3 through 6 would undermine the effectiveness of local law enforcement, jeopardize traffic safety and life-saving law enforcement technology, and eliminate state revenue. (The 25 cities using red light technology sent $7.3 million to the state in 2008, money that should have gone to trauma care but for an appropriations oversight by the legislature.)
- The Texas Local Participation Transportation Program would be created to encourage “local project sponsors” (e.g., a city, county, regional mobility authority, or regional tollway authority) to participate in pass-through toll transportation projects.
- A driver who does not have proof of insurance is presumed to have committed the offense of driving without insurance unless a peace officer determines through use of an electronic verification program that financial responsibility has been established for the vehicle.
- The definition of “junked vehicle” is a vehicle that is self-propelled and displays an expired license plate or invalid motor vehicle inspection certificate or does not display a license plate or motor vehicle inspection certificate and that meets other criteria in current law.
- The transportation of fireworks in unopened and original packaging may not be prohibited or regulated.
- A common carrier, energy transporter, or gas utility has the right to lay and maintain lines over, under, and across a municipal street or alley only if it: (a) is subject to the jurisdiction, control, and regulation of the Railroad Commission of Texas; and (b) complies with all applicable state and federal regulations on the accommodation of utility facilities on a highway or right-of-way. The bill would also provide that: (a) the right to use a municipal street or alley is subject to the payment of franchise fees; (b) an energy transporter shall when necessary relocate its pipeline facilities at the energy transporter’s expense unless it has a property interest in the land occupied by the pipeline to be relocated; and (c) a common carrier, energy transporter, or gas utility that lays or maintains lines shall promptly restore any transportation facility to its former condition of usefulness after the installation or maintenance of the line is complete.
- A law enforcement agency may equip each vehicle used in a K-9 law enforcement program with a heat alarm system that is activated when the vehicle stops running or the temperature in the vehicle's interior becomes dangerous to a police dog in the vehicle.
What started out as a bill to extend the existence of TxDoT and to modify or update that agency’s authorities, responsibilities, and functions has become, in a part, an assortment of totally unrelated restrictions on cities.
City officials concerned about any of these issues should contact their senator(s) now.