Sunday, December 30, 2007

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Williamson dies

By Ben Wear - Austin American Statesman - Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ric Williamson, the Texas Transportation Commission chairman and a take-no-prisoners advocate for his friend Rick Perry’s toll road policy, has died.

Williamson, 55, who had been on the commission since 2001 and its chairman since January 2004, died of a heart attack, said state Sen. Mike Krusee, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. It was not clear today if Williamson died late Saturday night or early Sunday.

Williamson, a Weatherford resident, had served in the Texas House for 14 years, leaving in 1999. Williamson dominated discussion of Texas transportation policy for most of this decade, holding forth at commission meetings in a curiously ornate but still straight-forward style that sometimes infuriated opponents of the toll road policy. Williamson, in particular, was four-square behind granting private companies long-term leases to finance, build and operate publicly owned toll roads, an approach that he said would raise billions for other roads but that others feared gave away too much control of public assets.

Texas Monthly in a June article had called him “the most hated person in Texas, public enemy number one to a million or more people.” In that same article, Williamson told writer Paul Burka, “I’ve had two heart attacks, and I’m trying to avoid the third one, which the doctors tell me will be fatal.”People could question Williamson’s policy stands and his approach - and plenty of Texas legislators did just that over the past year - but no one could question the horsepower of the intellect behind those policies.

“Ric was the smartest and most far-sighted person I’d ever seen in public life,” said Krusee. “I learned so much whenever I was around Ric, and I don’t just mean transportation policy.”

Transportation Department executive director Amadeo Saenz issued this statement this afternoon:

“Ric Williamson was a visionary. As a member and chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, he brought passion and focus to meeting many of the challenges facing Texas today and for generations to come. The entire TxDOT family will miss his dedication and his leadership. At this time, our thoughts are with his wife, children and grandchildren.”

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