3/14/2008Texas: Private Toll Road Uses Public Money
Private toll road between Austin and San Antonio, Texas is being paid for with a $430 million loan from federal taxpayers.
A Texas toll road touted as the private sector alternative to traditional public financing of roads is in fact being partially funded with taxpayer dollars. US Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters announced Monday that the SH130 toll road would be financed with a $430 million federal government loan to the Spanish company Cintra and Zachry American Infrastructure, the companies that will own the road and collect fees and fines from motorists.
"We're helping give this project the push it needs so commuters can experience less congestion, shippers less delays and the region less headaches," Peters said in a statement Monday.
Although exact loan terms were not available, similar construction projects commonly feature easy repayment terms at or near below-market rates. Texas Toll Party founder Sal Costello suggested that it is no coincidence that Cintra won from the state a deal to build the $1.3 billion toll road. Calling it a "revolving door" Costello pointed out that Texas Governor Rick Perry's former top legislative liaison, Dan Shelley, has close ties to both Perry and Cintra. Shelley first worked for Cintra, then Perry, then Cintra again. According to state filings, Shelley expects to receive up to $150,000 from Cintra for his lobbying efforts this year.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has already signed an agreement that limits the agency's ability to make traffic flow more quickly on adjacent, free routes. The agreement, for example, specifies how TxDOT can boost revenue on SH130 by lowering speed limits on Interstate 35 (view non-compete agreement). SH130 is scheduled for completion in 2012.