Monday, July 11, 2005

San Antonio vs. Houston toll roads

Today's guest post is brought to us by Erik Slotboom, author of Houston Freeways:

Article: San Antonio left out of toll road decision

The bottom line is that is is good for Houston/Harris County to have its own toll road authority to maintain local control and keep the profits and toll rate-setting local, as well as use the profits to benefit the local infrastructure rather than make profits for a corportation.

TxDOT is trying to impose a private toll scheme on San Antonio and didn't even bother to notify San Antonio officials. If this moves forward, San Antonio residents will have to pay for the private operators to make a profit.

Here is the analysis from the anti-toll group:

"Surprised and concerned leaders from San Antonio could only stand on the sidelines Thursday as state officials agreed to pursue a private bid to build and operate toll roads in Bexar County." That's the opening line a story by Patrick Driscoll that appears in today's San Antonio Express-News.

Even Bill Thornton, the Governor appointed Chairman of the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) was shut out of the process. Shockingly the Transportation Commission didn't have the common courtesy to notify Thornton that the deal for privately built and operated toll roads in Bexar County would be on the Commission's agenda yesterday.

Toll roads in Houston generate $50 million dollars a year in revenue that is reinvested in Harris County transportation projects. But toll roads in San Antonio may instead generate billions in revenue for TxDOT's private monopoly road operator over the next half-century, denying Bexar County the same degree of benefit that Harris County enjoys.

Not surprisingly, the private bid to build and operate Bexar County toll roads comes from Cintra Zachry, the same group selected by the Commission last December to plan and build TTC-35. Of course the deal is secret, again. Most things involving money, monopolies, and unexplained transportation projects by TxDOT today are secret. Gone is government transparency, accountability and open government. No longer is the public permitted to participate in, or even observe, the planning, negotiation, or details of government contracts involving billions of dollars of public infrastructure and the expenditure of millions upon millions of our tax dollars.

Here's an article on HCTRA's finances.

OK, now back to your regularly scheduled blogger, Tory:

I had to comment on the last paragraph in that HCTRA article in Tollroads News:
Texas toll agencies manage to get a lot of road for the dollar compared to most others. They deny they 'disappear' the various environmentalists, federal agents and other road opponents who plague road building elsewhere in the US.

"Disappear"? Is this the Texas version of The Godfather and Goodfellas? If so, here's a friendly health tip, Erik: you may want to tone it down a bit... ;-)


At 1:19 PM, July 12, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have one question and maybe you might know the answer.

Can Harris County use some of the toll road revenue to finance not toll country road projects?

If they can, i would mean great news for the major thoroughfares throughout the county.

At 3:41 PM, July 12, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Harris County has been diverting toll money to regular street projects for some time. According to the Chronicle report, at least $100 milllion has been diverted. I remember a detailed analysis in the Chronicle article. Ostensibly the projects are to provide access to tollways, but only 3 of 33 projects connect to tollways.

This is definitely a slippery slope. Once toll money is diverted to roads, it is only a small step to divert it to other uses. Realistically, I think funds normally used for road maintenance and construction will be diverted to other uses, and toll money will be used to maintain and build regular streets. This doesn't necessarily render the point of the Houston Strategies article invalid. The objective of Rick Perry is for toll roads to earn profits. These profits can either go to corporations, as could happen in San Antonio, or the money can stay local. Also, there's always a chance that political changes can occur. For example, if we get major turnover on Harris County Commissioner's Court (Radack has already said he's retiring and Eckels is rumored to potentially seek state office), the toll system could be viewed as something that needs to pay for itself, but not for other things. Or stated another way, Commissioners will be unwilling to raise tolls in the future, and inflation will gradually bring tolls down to reasonable levels so that there is no surplus to spend on other things.

At 10:50 AM, July 13, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

An ammendment must be introduced to put a rider on all funds. Louisiana has done this to all transportation money so lawmakers can't divert it for other uses. I don't mind the toll funds being used for road improvements to the county, but diversion for other uses would be a big downfall.


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