- By Ben Wear American-Statesman Staff
Two members of the Texas Transportation Commission are leaving the board, which governs the Texas Department of Transportation.
The resignations of Tryon Lewis of Odessa, which he acknowledged Thursday, and Victor Vandergriff of Arlington, confirmed Friday by sources with direct knowledge of the situation, come as TxDOT struggles with a moratorium on toll road construction mandated by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Vandergriff’s decision to leave, which could be officially announced as early as Monday, also comes in the wake of a Texas Tribune story last month saying that he had charged the state for the expenses of two trips to Austin where he did both commission work and private business.
Vandergriff, who had no comment Friday, acknowledged the billings to the Tribune, and reimbursed the state for a handful of trips to the capital.
TxDOT spokesman Bob Kaufman had no comment Friday on the Vandergriff situation.
The governor appoints all five members of the transportation commission to six-year terms. Lewis was appointed by Abbott in 2015, with a term running through January 2021, and was designated chairman of the commission. Then, in September, Abbott decided to elevate San Antonio banker Bruce Bugg Jr. to chairman, relegating Lewis, a former legislator and state district judge, to a regular commission spot.
Lewis will continue to serve until Abbott appoints a replacement.
Vandergriff was appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry in 2013, with a term to end in a year. His precise plans regarding the commission and its monthly meetings were not clear Friday.
The replacement appointees will be subject to Senate confirmation in the 2019 session.
Early departures from the commission are not unprecedented. Robert Nichols stepped down in 2005 for what turned out to be a successful run for the Texas Senate, and former chairwoman Deirdre DeLisi resigned in 2011 to be a part of Perry’s first run for president.
But the resignations this week come in the wake of a decision last month by Bugg to defer action on an expansion of Interstate 635 in Northeast Dallas, a delay that reportedly came as a surprise to other commission members and a large cadre of MetroPlex civic leaders who had traveled to Austin for the item. They had hoped that removing the toll features of the huge project, at least for now, would get the project back on TxDOT’s front burner.
Lewis and Vandergriff have served on the commission in a time when TxDOT had a multi-billion-dollar annual infusion of cash for highway projects because of constitutional amendments passed in 2014 and 2015. But TxDOT’s construction of toll roads, and the use of toll dollars for part of those projects’ cost, had run into legislative and gubernatorial headwinds over the past year.
Lewis said Thursday he had been about to apply for senior judge status before Abbott asked him to serve on the commission. Now Lewis, 70, says he will make that application to sit on the bench again in his hometown of Odessa.
“I love being a judge,” Lewis said. “It was a very, very intense three years on the commission, especially when I was chair. I think it’s a good time to segue out.”