Toll Roads: The Congestion, Sniffling, Coughing, Aching, So You Can Commute Medicine? 

What’s the best bridge between the state’s available funds and its growing mobility needs? If you said “thousands of miles of privately funded gray and whale-wide toll roads,” you’ve probably been sipping the Texas Transportation Commission’s kool-aid. It’s hard not to, when their arguments are so concentrated and sugared-over (tolls — the  answer to all petro-dependent ailments), and with so many free-marketeers in line for some moneymaking … Including losing road-construction companies whose bids are not selected, according to the December 15 Texas Observer. Thanks to a 2003 transportation bill touted as encouraging competition, the Texas Department of Transportation has paid roughly $4.3 million to rejectees so far, with another $10 million in “consolation stipends” on the docket.

Maybe you see the estimated $36-billion Trans-Texas-Corridor and selling of public infrastructure as an outgrowth of the Tragedy of the Commons — the theory that unrestricted, free use of a common, finite resource (i.e. Interstate 35 is only so wide and so resistant to semi-truck loads) leads to social problems (like traffic congestion). How do you then justify the state’s non-compete agreements with companies like Cintra-Zachry, that ask TxDOT to ignore toll-free highway improvements and capacity building nearby so as to maximize profit on the $10 billion the private vendor paid? (It’s commonly believed that neglecting those public roads would be tragic.)

Cintra-Zachry and TxDOT reached an agreement in December to build the first leg of the TTC, a 300-mile toll road from east San Antonio to Dallas, to be finished by 2014. Final decisions on the full TTC route is a work-in-progress, and thanks to a 1,600-page thicket of projections about its cost, design, and impact released in September, not even the anti-regulation short-sleevers at the Texas Public Policy Foundation know what’s in the Master Development Plan.

For 2007, expect more push and pull about the ways private companies cover their for-pay assets (private concessions, eminent domain invoked on a private company’s behalf, and all the crazy clauses buried in state bills that make TxDOT Cintra-Zachry’s subject, like being required to build connectors to the TTC possibly using public funds, the Texas Observer reports).


Speaking of Special, 2006 Almanack

More by Keli Dailey

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