Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Macquarie Infrastructure Group (MIG) launches legal action against Ontario Government as Cintra prepares IPO for European Stock Market

MIG heavies Ontario on tollway

Macquarie Infrastructure Group has raised the stakes in its battle with the Ontario Government in Canada.

July 27, 2004

By Scott Rochfort
The Sydney Morning Herald
Copyright 2004

Macquarie Infrastructure Group has raised the stakes in its battle with the Ontario Government in Canada over the ETR 407 toll-road, launching legal action against the province in a bid to bring the latest skirmish to a halt.

After nine months of frosty relations with the newly elected Liberal Government, the toll-road operator hopes it can end the series of disputes through the courts.

In the latest battle, it has lodged a judicial order pressing the Government not to renew the vehicle permits of tollway users with outstanding accounts.

The 407 also announced over the weekend it had "invoked resolution procedures" to settle a separate dispute over calculations on possible future payments to the Government over traffic congestion.

"If you have 94 years on a concession, you don't want these things to fester," said MIG chief executive Stephen Allen, a Toronto native.

The Government has shown little enthusiasm to resolve the issues and a fortnight ago threatened to appeal against an arbitration ruling which said the tollway operator had the right to raise tolls without government approval.

The dispute flared in February when the 407 raised tolls by 8 per cent without government approval.

MIG owns the 108 kilometre tollway with the Spanish tollway partner Grupo Ferrovial.

In a statement, 407 said it delivered "a notice of discriminatory action to the Government for the province's failure to comply with its legal obligation to deny [licence] plates".

Enrique Diaz-Rato, chief executive of ETR 407, said: "We have tried to resolve this issue amicably but we are left with no other choice but to take this action."

The 407 agreed to defer the suspension of licence plates for defaulters in 2000, citing problems with "customer service". The tollway now believes it has the problems ironed out.

The 407 is electronically monitored and the only deterrent for drivers who fail to pay their monthly toll bills is the threat of not having their licence plates renewed.

With drivers owing up to $C5000 ($5329), the company said it was owed $C16 million in outstanding bills.

The tollway, meanwhile, reported a loss in its second quarter of $C22.8 million, which included a depreciation charge of $C25.3 million.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation were $C71.6 million for the quarter, up from $C57.8 million in the previous corresponding period.

A major positive was the 12 per cent cut in operating expenses to $C25.4 million and the strong lift in traffic volumes.

Traffic volumes for the quarter rose 9.3 per cent over the previous corresponding period, which included a one-day record of 384,242 vehicles.

JP Morgan analyst David Leitch said the move to hasten a resolution to the dispute could be related to the upcoming float of the Spanish toll-road operator Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, which is owned by MIG and Ferrovial.

"The Ontario Government is going to lose but they still have a few cards," Mr Leitch said, noting the potential fallout of the dispute on Cintra's listing price.

"Their weapon is that they can extend the process to some extent."

Macquarie Equities analyst Ian Myles said the latest action taken by the 407 over the non-renewal of licence plates and tolling issues was a "natural escalation", given the disputes had been running since January.

"It's sound logic they are trying to progress the dispute," he said.

Copyright © 2004. The Sydney Morning Herald.

© 2004 The Sydney Morning Herald: www.smh.com.au

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Monday, July 26, 2004

The Process of Elimination

List of those for whom the roads toll

July 26, 2004

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2004

Sometimes just standing near a fire can get you singed.

Since the July 12 vote by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board to approve a $2.2 billion toll road plan, I've heard from quite a few people upset that, in the news story about it that ran the next morning, I didn't list the 16 members of the CAMPO board who supported creating seven more toll roads around here.

I did list the seven no-voters, figuring that if incensed toll opponents were readying tar and feathers (well, threatening to start circulating petitions to force recall elections, anyway), I should make it clear who needn't be on their hit list.

My assumption was that those with a bone to pick with the yes voters would be able by process of elimination to divine who they wanted to process for elimination.

And, in fact, the truly motivated had no trouble at all identifying their targets. A recall drive for Austin Mayor Will Wynn, for instance, was well into the research stage before the sun set July 13.

Nonetheless, more than one e-mailer noted that the American-Statesman editorial board endorsed the plan.

Obviously, they said, I too was a supporter of the toll road plan and was a foot soldier in a conspiracy of silence. They charged that I purposely suppressed the identity of those board members, almost all of them elected officials, to protect them from abuse or ouster from office.

Not so. Editor Rich Oppel, editorial page editor Arnold Garcia and the editorial board make their decisions without the advice or consent of beat reporters.

But those readers were right that the names should have been in the newspaper, given the importance of the vote.

So, two weeks late -- and with no inference that they deserve or don't deserve condemnation for their stance -- here are the board members who voted for the toll plan, listed in alphabetical order:

  • State Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, D-Austin
  • Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe, a Democrat
  • Williamson County Commissioner Greg Boatright, a Republican
  • Hays County Commissioner Bill Burnett, a Republican
  • Round Rock City Council Member Gary Coe (sitting in for Round Rock Mayor Nyle Maxwell)
  • Bob Daigh, Austin district engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation
  • State Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin
  • State Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown
  • State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock
  • Austin City Council Member Brewster McCracken (council members are elected on a non-partisan basis)
  • State Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan
  • Travis County Commissioner Karen Sonleitner, a Democrat
  • Austin City Council Member Danny Thomas
  • West Lake Hills Mayor Dwight Thompson
  • Capital Metro board member John Trevio

  • and Wynn.

And for those of you of might want to recall those who voted against the plan, and don't have the July 13 American-Statesman sitting around, you can figure out their names through the process of elimination.

© 2004 Austin American-Statesman: www.statesman.com


Sunday, July 25, 2004

"By the time people catch on, I hope we're not at the ribbon cutting."

Critics unified on toll roads

Perry's 4,000-mile plan draws ire of some residents, activists, lawmaker.

July 4, 2004

W. Gardner Selby, Austin Bureau
Copyright 2004

A 50-year plan ushered by GOP Gov. Rick Perry to build 4,000 miles of Texas toll roads and rail lines has drawn unlikely opposition stoked by two Republican activists joined by a rural Democratic legislator.

And some residents who have attended public hearings on the plan have also raised questions about the scope of the project.

Rep. Robby Cook of Eagle Lake, who attended a crowded public hearing on the Trans -Texas Corridor in La Grange, said he wants to slow down or possibly cancel the plan.

As envisioned, corridor projects would crisscross the state with separate highway lanes for passenger vehicles and trucks, passenger rail, freight rail and commuter rail, and dedicated utility zones at a cost of up to $183 billion.

Cook said the state is "moving way too fast. I don't think the general public is aware of all the information they need to know and whether or not this is good for all areas."

David and Linda Stall of Fayetteville, near La Grange, agree. The Stalls attended the GOP convention in San Antonio last month and won approval of a platform plank calling for repeal of a 2003 law authorizing the Texas Department of Transportation to proceed.

Corridor Watch, founded by the Stalls in February, opposes using transportation projects to generate state funds, converting highways to toll roads or granting vendors control of public land or infrastructure - elements of the corridor strategy.

"It's just wrong, I don't care what your political affiliation is," said David Stall, expressing doubts about granting 30-year concessions to vendors who could profit from building and managing projects.

"By the time people catch on, I hope we're not at the ribbon cutting," he said.

TxDOT held hearings throughout the year in every county; most were lightly attended.

Residents probed the amount of needed land, possible lease arrangements with private interests, the impact on local economic development and taxes, and how the corridor might connect to existing highways.

Many "asked why can't we just continue to expand along our existing corridors ," an agency summary states.

TxDOT engineers at the hearings, where residents sketched desired routes, said little is settled. Nobody "knows exactly where (the corridor is) going to go, exactly what it will look like," one said.

The first major project could run parallel to Interstate 35.

Three vendors are competing to build and manage the I-35 corridor . A winner could be determined by early next year with the preferred path narrowed to a swath 10 miles wide after preliminary environmental studies.

The agency also wants to focus on the Interstate 69 corridor from Texarkana around Houston, with links to Corpus Christi and Laredo.

A Bandera woman questioned demands for up to 1,200-foot rights-of-way - enough space to assure 10 lanes for cars and trucks plus rail and utility lines.

"Why are they even contemplating that? I don't get it."

A TxDOT representative said: "It seems inevitable that San Antonio and growth will continue to come this way whether we do anything or not."

Another resident said Texas has enough roads, adding: "What you need is a program that teaches people how to drive."

In La Grange, near Interstate 10, hundreds of residents questioned a contemplated east-west corridor .

The Fayette County Commission said in May the corridor "would negatively affect rural Texas , splitting farms and ranches, uproot wildlife, have a negative impact on the local economy and would create pollution and trash."

County Judge Ed Janecka, a Democrat, called the plan "a joke" due to possible quarter-mile land takings, adding his personal doubt that it would relieve congestion in cities.

"Somebody might be able to go to Houston or San Antonio faster (but) it's of no benefit to the county whatsoever. It takes a lot of land off the tax base. It's just an incursion."

Ric Williamson, Perry's appointed chairman of the five-member Texas Transportation Commission, said he welcomes such critiques.

Williamson said landowners deserve to know the state might pay royalties for property access and there might be ways for the corridor to shrink to 800-foot swaths.

But "you can't say the idea is a joke when you've got three international companies proposing multibillion-dollar investments in the first piece (I-35)," Williamson said.

Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, stressed TxDOT has yet to accept a proposal.

"Are we going to start addressing our transportation needs and the NAFTA challenge? Yes. Have we decided what we are going to build and where? No."

San Antonio Express-News: www.mysanantonio.com