Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Cintra-Zachry Muscles in on Alamo Regional Mobility Authority

Tollway hearing arrives amid uncertainties

May 3, 2005

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

State officials will hold their first public hearing for proposed San Antonio toll roads Wednesday, though they don't know whether they or a private consortium will build them.
Plans call for six toll lanes on U.S. 281 from Loop 1604 to Marshall Road and eight toll ramps that directly link U.S. 281 and Loop 1604. Construction is set to start later this year and finish in 2009.

The Texas Department of Transportation will hold the hearing at 7 p.m. at Reagan High School.

TxDOT has intended to build the U.S. 281 toll lanes and four others on Loop 1604 between Interstates 10 and 35, then hand them over to the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority as a financial engine to develop other tollways.

But that scenario was put in doubt last week after Spain-based Cintra and locally owned Zachry American Infrastructure submitted a proposal to the state to build toll lanes on Loop 1604 across the North Side and on U.S. 281 north of the loop.

If state officials consider the offer, they'll have to call for other bids. Meanwhile, they'll push forward on current plans.

''We really don't know what's going to happen,'' said Ximena Copa-Wiggins, a TxDOT spokeswoman in San Antonio. ''We need to keep going until a decision is made.''

The Cintra-Zachry consortium signed a contract in March to develop plans for a 600-mile tollway segment of the Trans Texas Corridor that eventually will run east of I-35 from Mexico to Oklahoma.

Officials with the companies say they can construct the toll system in San Antonio faster and without $450 million in public funds earmarked for toll lanes on Loop 1604 and U.S. 281.

But the companies would collect the toll fees for up to 50 years, and that's money the Regional Mobility Authority would otherwise use to expand the tollway network.

Motorists are left wondering who will set toll fees and how high they will be allowed to go.

''It's an interesting question,'' said David Martinez, a Northeast Side resident who says he'll probably use the toll lanes when he needs to.

State officials have predicted that it could cost 15 cents a mile to drive on toll lanes and 50 cents to use a ramp.

Some motorists will avoid paying tolls as much as possible.

"I wouldn't feel partial to paying a toll," said North Side resident Ivan Estes

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News: www.mysanantonio.com