Tuesday, March 27, 2007
A construction company has completed one segment of the sound barrier on the 183-A toll road in Northwest Austin.
Now they say the sound wall is scheduled to be finished by April 30.
The toll road opened up earlier this month, but many people living in the Forest Oaks neighborhood in Cedar Park say they have dealt with noise from the site for several months previous.
They say they were promised a sound wall would be in place when the toll road opened.
Project coordinators say there were unavoidable delays.
"I'm all for progress, but this is too close," Sanders said while standing on her backyard deck. "I get woken up from the sound of 18-wheelers."
INDIANAPOLIS (March 24, 2007) -- Governor Daniels today contacted Indiana House and Senate leadership as well as members of the Senate Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Committee, the House Roads and Transportation Committee and legislators in the areas of the proposed Indiana Commerce Connector and Illiana Expressway to advise them that he is withdrawing his suggestion that action be taken on the Indiana Commerce Connector or the Illiana Expressway east of Interstate 65. The governor suggests moving forward on the Illiana concept west of Interstate 65.
The text of the governor’s letter, dated today and sent to Senator Thomas Wyss, author of SB1 and chairman of the Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Committee, and Representative Terri Austin, chairwoman of the Roads and Transportation Committee and copied to the aforementioned groups, is below. An imaged copy of the letter to Senator Wyss (the letter to Rep. Austin is identical) is also attached.
“Like you, I have been paying close attention to the vigorous public discussion around my proposal to explore new privately funded bypass roads in Northwest and Central Indiana. After legislative action to date, some forty public meetings, and lots of other open debate, it is clear to me that we are far from the degree of consensus that is necessary before embarking on major public works projects of high local impact.
Accordingly, I withdraw the suggestion that any action be taken on an Indiana Commerce Connector, or an Illiana Expressway east of I-65. Either of these ideas might benefit from further research, and I would welcome some form of that if your committees are so inclined. But the people of the affected areas have spoken clearly enough to persuade me that these ideas are, at best, premature.
By contrast, an Illiana bypass from I-65 west seems to be broadly supported and can, I hope, be given the chance to move forward.
I appreciate the citizenship of everyone who participated in these two debates. We must never be afraid to venture new ideas for fear of controversy; a state that does that will surely stagnate. But we must also never assume that every new idea is a good one, or imperative to act on immediately.
I hope that you will reshape the legislation along the above lines, but am happy to work with you on whatever approach you deem best for the interests of our state.”
Source: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels' Office
Friday, March 23, 2007
Selling our souls
What is all of the fuss about toll roads? Our leaders don't have the guts to tax us and our gasoline to pay for the roads that we demand to have, and we are selfish dreamers who take all our luxuries for granted and expect others to pay for our roads.
Our poorest folks are richer than 80 percent of the world and yet we refuse to give up our $5 cups of coffee, our big-screen TV sets, our luxury SUVs and oversized houses to pay for roads to drive on.
It is a terrible shame when our selfish and narrow-minded attitudes force our leaders to seek foreigners to finance our roads (and take the profits) because we refuse to pool our resources to build our own roads.
We are selling our souls because it will keep us happy for a short time — just as we get cars and TVs on credit because it makes us feel good for a little while.
For the past 40 years, the population of Austin has grown by 50 percent every decade. That growth is expected to continue, meaning about 3.75 million people will live here by the year 2035.
Monday, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization laid out its latest transportation plan to handle the needs of such a population boom.
One of the things CAMPO envisions is redesigned roads that are more bike, bus, and pedestrian friendly.
With a commuter rail line going online next year, and an HOV lane on MoPac in the works, CAMPO would also like to..... read more here
Over the past few weeks a drama has played out in Austin over the future of State Highway 121, a huge roadway that will soon be the equivalent of a 26-mile-long "LBJ Freeway" between Central Expressway and Interstate 35.
The story began over a year ago when the decision was made to obtain badly needed transportation funds by converting Highway 121 to a toll road and then selling a 50-year concession on it.
At the insistence of the Texas Department of Transportation, the North Texas Turnpike Authority – the region's only experienced toll road agency – was ultimately excluded as a bidder.
Last month, Gov. Rick Perry announced with some fanfare that a Spanish company, Cintra, had the winning bid of $2.8 billion for the rights to the toll road. That's when things got interesting.
At the request of state Sen. John Carona, the NTTA responded that it could likely "offer" $6.3 billion using the same general assumptions employed by Cintra.
How can the NTTA produce so much more than Cintra? Because of its lower cost of funds.
The NTTA requires no equity returns and has access to low-interest municipal bonds. This capital structure is significantly less expensive than Cintra's combination of taxable bonds and equity.
Therefore, with the same revenue assumptions, the NTTA can return $3.5 billion more to the region than Cintra. This amount is more than TxDOT spent on new road construction in Dallas, Collin and Denton counties during the past five years.
The contract with Cintra has not yet been signed. By selecting the NTTA, an additional $3.5 billion would become available to the region. By selecting Cintra, that same $3.5 billion would become profits for Cintra and interest income for Cintra's banks.
Which would you pick?
Welcome to the new world of comprehensive development agreements, commonly referred to as CDAs. They involve the sale of a toll road's revenue stream to a private entity in return for huge upfront signing fees and future revenue sharing.
CDAs can sometimes be good. Examples are ventures that the public sector is unwilling or unable to construct, very expensive urban projects with uncertain traffic estimates, and projects in rural areas with no history of toll roads.
The private sector's willingness to accept the construction, financing, traffic and revenue risks in these examples justifies their economic rewards.
On the other hand, a perfect example of a bad CDA is Highway 121. The NTTA is willing and able to finance and construct the project, right-of-way costs are known, construction cost increases are not being assumed by Cintra, noncompete penalties are provided, traffic can be reasonably forecasted, and area commuters have already demonstrated their receptiveness to toll roads. Cintra would capture very high rewards for very little risk.
Because of the controversy over Highway 121 and other projects around the state, a two-year moratorium on CDAs has been proposed in Austin.
Local opponents to the moratorium claim that critical projects will not get built and congestion will strangle our region.
But the proposed moratorium applies only to selling to the private sector the rights to public assets. The NTTA is a public agency and would be exempted from this moratorium. It could build and, with legislative permission, allocate funds to nontoll projects.
If the moratorium halts a flawed selection process, results in more transportation dollars for this region, and permits construction of critical projects without delay, how can it be viewed as anything but good?
How should the Legislature address the use of CDAs and solve the funding crisis?
First, regional toll road authorities should obtain the first right to build new toll projects and should not have to pay TxDOT for this right to build.
Second, toll road authorities should obtain the ability to allocate funds to nontoll transportation projects.
Third, funding raised from tolls should not reduce funding from gas taxes, and all gas tax dollars due this region should be promptly returned here and not spent elsewhere.
Finally, the only serious long-term solution to this crisis is to index gas taxes. When the pain of the status quo exceeds the pain of change, change happens.
The Legislature needs to increase and index the gas tax to fund new transportation construction.
Jere Thompson Jr. is a former chairman of the North Texas Turnpike Authority and its predecessor, the Texas Turnpike Authority. He now serves as the Transportation Chairman for the Dallas Citizens Council and the Trinity Commons Foundation. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
From the Statesman
Carona was quoted in this paper and the Dallas Morning News today indicating that, well, he didn’t plan to let SB 1267 come up for a vote in his committee. Tarrant County officials, at yet another Carona hearing Wednesday, had made it clear they don’t want a moratorium because it could delay for years some road projects they were counting on to get going.
People like David Stall, with anti-Trans-Texas Corridor group Corridor Watch, and Austin toll opponent Sal Costello went into action. Carona’s office was flooded with demands that he give the bill a vote, and some of his staffers said, well, he’d been misquoted.
No, Carona’s office, later said, the news stories got it right. But he issued a statement at mid-afternoon trying to put his position on SB 1267 in context.
“There are things we need to accomplish this session, such as stopping or reducing diversion of transportation revenues, and indexing the motor fuels taxes,” the Carona statement said. “If all we do is pass SB 1267, then we have told TxDOT it is okay to build all future roads as toll roads, just not (private) toll roads… . We have heard the public loud and clear about toll roads, public private partnerships, and the Trans Texas Corridor. We have also heard from Tarrant County and others for whom SB 1267 creates a hardship, and we have an obligation to listen to them as well.”
Monday, March 19, 2007
Vexed by private tollway deals, affronted by TxDOT's attitudes, Legislature looks to rein in Perry's turnpike pushBy Ben Wear
Monday, March 19, 2007
Mike Krusee looked tired.
The Republican state representative from Williamson County, interviewed at his Capitol office last week, for 10 days or so had been fighting what some people call the creeping crud, a debilitating mixture of cold, flu and allergy symptoms hitting many Central Texans this spring.
But Krusee, for much longer than 10 days, has also been fighting the creeping realization among legislators that over the past two sessions, they might have granted Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation too much power to create toll roads. For the first time in his three sessions as chairman of the House Transportation Committee and the leading legislative architect of toll road policy, Krusee is having to play defense.
For a number of reasons — campaign trail grumbling last year, disputes with Dallas and Houston toll road agencies, lack of deference to legislators by Texas transportation commissioners, turf battles over huge pots of money suddenly coming Texas' way — the Legislature has been gripped by a sort of March madness over tollways, particularly those that would be in private hands for a half-century.
What remains to be seen is what the madness will lead to by the end of the session May 28. As transportation chairman, Krusee can, in theory, block most legislation seeking to roll back tollway powers. And Perry could veto whatever makes it to his desk.
But more than two-thirds of the Legislature has signed on to legislation that would put a two-year moratorium on concessions, contracts with private companies to build and run toll roads. Dozens of other bills limiting tollway powers have been filed. And powerful legislators, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, are talking about using the power of the purse to curb the Transportation Department.
Perry and Krusee may have no choice but to make concessions on concessions and on other prongs of their toll road agenda.
"Watch the budget," Ogden said. "At the end of the day, TxDOT can't spend a dime without our permission. So, watch the budget."
Ogden has a unique role in the situation.
In 2003, when he was chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, Ogden sponsored House Bill 3588, a humongous bill that, among other things, authorized Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor plan and allowed the state to enter into concession agreements with private companies. That bill, conceived and carried by Krusee in the House, basically made possible everything that Ogden and most of the Legislature are now stewing over.
Ogden has filed bills that would prohibit the granting of long-term road leases and require that toll roads become free roads when money borrowed by government for construction is paid off. He says tolls should be a mechanism to get a specific road built, not a profit center. Those two short and simple measures would gut the Transportation Department's toll road policy.
Ogden was asked for his take on why he and so many other lawmakers have had second thoughts about their 2003 handiwork.
"What's going on? We had an election, that's what," Ogden said. "All we're doing is reflecting what we heard on the campaign trail."
Others paint a more complicated picture. Repercussions from HB 3588 were already being felt when the Legislature met in 2005. There was grass-roots toll opposition in Austin and San Antonio and widespread unhappiness among farmers and ranchers about the corridor plan to build 4,000 miles of tollways, railroads and utility easements. But although the Legislature made some tweaks in 2005, mostly to appease the rural concerns, nothing like this session's Category 5 blowback occurred.
It's one thing to upset residents of Austin or Fayetteville and quite another to get crosswise with toll road agencies in Dallas and Houston.
The Transportation Department, in its zeal to award long-term toll road leases to private companies and thus reap multibillion-dollar upfront payments from them, has managed to alienate the North Texas Tollway Authority and the Harris County Toll Road Authority.
The local authorities want first shot at operating toll roads in their areas and feel that the state agency has shouldered them out of the way.
On Feb. 27, the Transportation Department awarded a contract for Texas 121, a road in suburban Collin County north of Dallas, to a partnership headed by Cintra, a Spanish toll road company that earlier won a bid to build 41 miles of the Texas 130 tollway southeast of Austin with Texas partner Zachry Construction. Cintra said it could give the state $2.1 billion upfront and $750 million more over 50 years for Texas 121.
The North Texas Tollway Authority declined to bid on that contract, a choice that, depending on who is telling the tale, may or may not have been made under pressure from Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson and his department.
In Houston, the Transportation Department said in April that it wanted more than $1.2 billion to sell some right of way to the Harris County authority for three more toll roads. That huge price reflected not the real estate value, but what the state could get from a private tollway operator.
Those kinds of huge upfront payments from private road operators excite Williamson and other tollanistas. But they come with a probable consequence to consumers — higher tolls — and stoke fear that the state is underselling the farm to tollway companies.
And legislators are made nervous by the Transportation Department's newfound ability to generate towering wads of cash independent of the state budget.
The Dallas and Houston episodes, along with Williamson's sometimes off-putting certitude about toll roads, have earned the Transportation Department some vigorous enemies in the statehouse, most prominently state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. Carona, chairman of the Senate transportation committee, has used that pulpit to bash Williamson and the agency. He also has a thick packet of tollway rollback legislation pending.
Then there is freshman Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, a former transportation commissioner and Williamson ally who is unhappy about language in the pending Texas 130 contract that he says would either tie the state's hands from building free roads near Cintra's section of Texas 130 or force the state to pay Cintra-Zachry tens of millions of dollars in the future. He has filed a Senate bill, with 24 co-sponsors, for a two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts.
State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, has a House twin that has 97 co-sponsors.
Those freeze bills, and most of the other toll road bills, may never move, however. This month, Carona has met in private at least three times with Krusee, Williamson and Perry transportation aide Kris Heckmann with the intention of creating an omnibus transportation bill to include elements from the pending bills as well as policy changes sought by the Transportation Department.
"It's important that we take these ideas now and wrap them into some piece of policy that is balanced and makes the most long-term sense," Carona said. "In all fairness, the Legislature has not left the commission with many options other than the pursuit of toll roads."
Which brings up the gas tax. At 20 cents a gallon and holding since 1991, the tax is falling far short of meeting the state's need for new pavement. Carona and Krusee have separate bills to make automatic annual increases to the tax, based on different measures of inflation. Initially, Carona's bill might increase the tax 3 cents a year and raise about $300 million more a year. Krusee's bill might generate a sixth of Carona's.
Neither will come close to eliminating the need for new toll roads.
Perry spokesman Robert Black said the governor, who has steadily opposed gas taxes, "is not going to close the door" on a gas tax indexing bill. Black suggested that if lawmakers take away some powers, "they need to replace them with something. . . . If the Legislature wants to make changes, additions, amendments, that's fine. But let's make sure it pushes forward."
Thursday, March 15, 2007
It's time for our representatives to step up and support HB2772 and SB1267.
2006 TX Republican Party Platform
Page-10. "Tran-Texas Corridor - Because there are issues of confiscation of private land, state and national sovereignty and other similar concerns, we urge the repeal of the Trans-Texas Corridor legislation,”
Page-24. "Tolls on Existing Roads - We oppose tolls charged for traversing previously toll free roadways and disallow continued tolls except for maintenance on existing toll roads already paid for."
2006 Texas Democratic Party Platform
Page 21. "We oppose the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposal that is little more than an attempt to transfer ownership of a strip down the middle of the state to a foreign corporation with close ties to the Governor, which could have a potentially devastating effect on rural areas, property owners and communities."
2006 Texas Libertarian Party Platform
"3. TOLL ROADS Libertarians oppose the Trans Texas Corridor Act, a costly boondoggle intended to benefit land developers through the abuse of eminent domain and the power of highway monopoly. Further, we support legislation that would forbid tolls on any highway right of way which was obtained with tax dollars or through the use of eminent domain or condemnation."
Friday, March 9, 2007
SB1688 Relating to the creation, powers, and duties of a transportation infrastructure services district created by a municipality; imposing taxes and authorizing bonds.
SB1689 Relating to the municipalities that may annex an area for limited purposes.
SB1690 Relating to the authority of a county to zone, apply building standards, and impose impact fees in an area near certain toll projects; providing a penalty.
Thursday, March 8, 2007
My House Rep, Mike Krusee, has not signed on yet so I sent him this message. It's short and to the point. Feel free to copy and edit if you need to contact your REPs.
Dear Representative Mike Krusee,
Subject: Support HB 2772
I live in House District 52 and I ask you to represent my family by supporting HB 2772. We have read, completely understand and completely support the content of the bill including public hearings and a legislative committee to study the implications of comprehensive development agreements.
DON'T KNOW WHO YOUR REPs ARE? Look it up here
New taxes coming for those who live around Texas 130 Toll Road
By Kate Miller Morton
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Watson plans to file three bills Friday. The most ambitious would allow Austin to create a special district around the toll road (Texas 130) where it could impose its development rules and collect sales and property taxes to pay for roads, streets and utility improvements in the district without being required to provide city services for years.
Watson is also proposing that counties along Texas 130 be granted zoning authority and the ability to levy impact fees and that cities near the toll road be allowed limited-purpose annexations regardless of their size.The bill has the support of Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, who said he supports the idea of creating a special district because otherwise it will be impossible for Austin to keep up with the infrastructure that is needed to plan for growth around the toll road.
Krusee said he knows of no other transportation service districts in the state but also knows of no other case in which so much road has been built in so little time.
Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, chair of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Transportation Policy Board, told participants of a work session on Monday that all members of CAMPO's joint powers agreement have signed off on proposed changes to the CAMPO board. That means a leaner and more local board, with fewer proxies and elected officials, should be in place by the CAMPO meeting in April.
Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Now, I know most of us make fun of our politicians. Even politicians make fun of themselves. Henry Kissinger once made the perceptive comment that "ninety percent of the politicians give the other ten percent a bad name."
And the scandals continue. In fact, one news journal called 2006 the 'year of corruption.'We had to stomach Rep. Mark Foley and his obsession with congressional pages. Before that there was ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Louisiana Rep William Jefferson, Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, and Texas own Tom DeLay.
I seldom make predictions because I'm usually wrong, but this time, I'm not. I predict that within five to 10 years, a scandal will rock Texas like no other. Enron and Sharpstown will be penny ante stuff compared to it.
And it will be because of our current governor, TxDot, and the Trans Texas Corridor.
Trans Texas Corridor. Have you heard of it? Not many have. And the legislature passed the bill in 2003.
The governor and TxDot have tried to keep it quiet. Almost 200 individuals have been forced to file charges to get the information that is supposed to be public.
The TTC is a proposed corridor four-football fields wide running from Laredo up I-35 and eventually all the way to Canada. It is to have six lanes for traffic, four for trucks, two for automobiles. The corridor will also carry pipelines for natural gas, oil, water, electricity, and electronic data. The land will be taken by eminent domain. And you all know what eminent domain is. It is the loophole that lets politicians steal your land legally. This greedy serpent will ultimately be 4,000 miles long, each mile using 146 acres taken by eminent domain.
How does it sound so far? What about the cost to taxpayers? The state doesn't know.The governor implores us just to trust him.We'll all benefit, just trust him.
A super-super highway speeding goods and citizens across the country. On the surface, it sounds great, the sort of initiative someone courting the vice-presidency (U.S.) would come up with. But, what are the drawbacks?
There's a couple. Minor ones the governor suggests.
First, the initial contract was signed by the Spanish firm Cintra and its partner, Zachry Construction Corporation, with TxDOT for a 316-mile section of road to be built from San Antonio to Dallas. The contract includes what is known as a nocomplete clause. That means TxDOT has agreed not to improve any roadways that run parallel to the corridor for the duration of the 50 to 75 years of the Cintra lease, unless those improvements had already been approved prior to the signing of the contract.
That means when farm to market roads fall apart, citizens' only option is the TTC and pay the toll. Texans will be forced to use the TTC and pay tolls. Crossovers are from 24 miles apart. Farmers and ranchers whose property is cut in two must travel several miles to cross over.
Oh yes, I mentioned a toll to use the road, 44+ cents for cars and $1+ for trucks per mile in addition to the cost of gasoline; and the inconvenience of 40 miles between exits; and the fact the Cintra Zachary people will control all the gas stations, eating stops and whatever all along the route.
And then there is the little matter of about 700,000 acres ripped from farmers and ranchers by eminent domain.
Folks, this scheme makes the railroad robber barons of the old west look like street corner hustlers. Over my 70 years, I've seen many obscene efforts to make the rich richer, but this is the most outrageous I have ever witnessed.
This goes through, and then it is a matter of time before it reaches us.Kent Conwell is retired from Port-Neches Groves ISD.
SB1267 calls for setting up a group to study the long-term impacts of the state enlisting private corporations to build and operate toll roads in exchange for collecting profits.
SB1268 was also filed yesterday and would prevent any conversion of an existing free lane to a toll lane, regardless of whether or not local voters approved it.
Tuesday, March 6, 2007
"the Legislature is in near-open rebellion against the governor on toll roads and the Trans-Texas Corridor. Relations between the Texas Department of Transportation and key legislators have rarely been so bad."
Executive order mandating HPV vaccinations for 11-year-old girls: Even his most reliable political base rebelled leaving the mandate in tatters.
Executive order to permit 11 coal plants: Turns out the utility really only needed three or four and intended to use the rest to trade for pollution credits. Then, TXU announced it was going to be bought in a deal that could possibly leave Texas largest electricity provider burdened with crippling debt.
Sexual abuse at the Texas Youth Commission and possible 2 yr cover up: District Attorney Ronnie Earle has announced an investigation.
Last, in a few months a judge is expected to rule on a class action lawsuit against the state, known as Frew v. Hawkins which argues that Medicare failed to provide basic services to children. Details at the Texas Medical Association. This case could cost the state billions of dollars that were not budgeted.
John Cook supports creating a Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) in El Paso to oversee road projects that cross state lines into Mexico and New Mexico.
"Under state law, the only vehicle that we have that can do projects in Mexico and New Mexico is a Regional Mobility Authority," said Cook.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Sunday morning is the first in which commuters can take advantage of a new toll road.
Highway 183A stretches north of 620 at 183 to Liberty Hill. The entire 11.6 miles will cost you $1.80.
Until May 1, everyone who uses this toll road will drive for free. TxTag drivers have until June 1 to drive without paying. Supporters say it will alleviate traffic on 183 from Cedar Park to Liberty Hill along with encouraging growth in the area.
Something to be aware of: the toll plaza near Lakeline Mall Drive will only accept electronic payments. That means you will have to have a TxTag, or you will get a violation notice in the mail.Source: KXAN.com
Saturday, March 3, 2007
By: Coleman H.B. No. 998
A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
relating to a moratorium on tolls by the Texas Department of Transportation.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. MORATORIUM ON TOLLS BY TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION. The Texas Department of Transportation may not impose a toll for the use of any portion of a highway or roadway in the state highway system that did not have a toll in effect on or before the effective date of this Act.
SECTION 2. EXPIRATION. This Act expires September 1, 2009.
SECTION 3. EFFECTIVE DATE. This Act takes effect immediately if it receives a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution. If this Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this Act takes effect September 1, 2007.
"In the '40s, some protested against the farm-to-market road system, in the '50s some protested against the interstate highway system, and today some protesters will leave the rally against the TTC using those very same roads," Perry spokesman Robert Black said. "Ain't progress great!"
Thursday, March 1, 2007
By Ben Wear | Thursday, March 1, 2007, 01:01 PM
While the public hearing on toll roads droned on inside the Capital Extension auditorium around noon, the man responsible for today’s show took a few minutes to share what he sees as the big picture with reporters outside.
“The real focus has to be on public-private parterships” for toll roads, said state Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. “The Trans-Texas Corridor will take care of itself eventually. In fact, there’s a high probability they’re only one gubernatorial election from being abolished.”
The more insidious public policy issue, from Carona’s point of view, is the Texas Department of Transportation’s burgeoning use of so-called “comprehensive development agreements” where it contracts with private companies to build, operate and collect the profits from toll roads. That’s the approach being used on the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of cross-state toll roads promoted by Gov. Rick Perry.
But the department is also beginning to use such agreements for purely urban roads, agreeing this week with Spanish company Cintra for Cintra and its partners to take over the existing Texas 121 toll road north of Dallas and extend it. Under the company’s winning bid, it would pay the state $2.1 billion up-front and at least another $800 million over 50 years for the right to run the 26-mile road.
That bonanza, and others like it, will allow the state to build more highway projects faster. But it will also, Carona said, saddle drivers with the highest possible tolls for decades to come. Carona wants the Transportation Department to voluntarily pull back on such agreements, and he supports a bill he said that will soon be filed to put a moratorium on private road agreements with the state.
Beyond all that, Carona believes the Legislature was wrong to give the Transportation Department as much license as it has to build toll roads and use excess money from those roads for other transportation projects.
“Is a toll a toll, or is it to be allowed to be a tax?” Carona said. “Today’s tolls are just disguised taxes.”
Carona said he and his fellow legislators over his 19 years in the Legislature put the Transportation Department in a bad position by declining to raise the state gas tax, creating a transportation funding shortfall that now runs to the tens of billions.
“Everyone of us, myself included, are to blame,” Carona said. “But when you make a mistake, in politics just as in life, the best thing to do is correct it. It’s incumbent on us to change bad law.”
The bad law, in Carona’s view, are two massive transportation bills passed by the Legislature in 2003 and 2005. That 2003 bill, among many other things, authorized the Trans-Texas Corridor and expanded what could be done with public-private partnerships on roads.
Will any of this — raising the gas tax, limiting private road deals — happen this session? Carona is pessimistic, given that House Transportation Committee chairman Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, and Perry are fully supportive of what the Transportation Department has been doing.
“I believe the majority of the House and a majority of the Senate, if given the chance, would vote to substantially curtail the power of the Department of Transportation,” Carona said. “The people of Texas, the people who hired us, want change. …Whether we can make these changes this session remains to be seen.”
Senators Grill Officials About Trans-Texas Corridor Project
Land Line Magazine
Texans call for repeal of proposed toll network
Proposed Trans Texas Corridor draws supporters and opponents to Austin
Residents Swarm Capitol To Halt Texas Tollway
Senators question transportation officials over toll road project
Hundreds demand toll road project's repeal
Senators question transportation officials over toll road project