Friday, February 11, 2005

"Condemnations and tolls currently outside of legislative oversight."

Senators see need for highway corridor, question current plan

by James A. Bernsen
The Lone Star Report
Volume 9, Issue 24
Copyright 2005

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security held an informational hearing on the Trans Texas Corridor on Feb. 9.

Senators expressed frustration with toll roads, quizzed state officials on the details of the plan, and heard testimony for and against the multi-billion dollar project.

But Sen. Todd Staples could have been speaking for virtually the entire committee when he said that regardless of the solution, Texas has a “mobility crisis.”

“Our current situation should really be no surprise,” he said. “As far back as 1976, reports were printed predicting where we are today...The big question is, knowing these facts, what are we going to do about it?”

The committee looked into the changes in how Texas builds highways that were created in the 2003 session’s HB 3588. Sen. Florence Shapiro (R-Plano), remarking that legislators may not have understood the ramifications of the legislation, said she wants to know what options are now.

“What power do we have,” she said, “in any of these condemnations, in setting of tolls, which I thought we were going to at least get involved with, but I understand now we’re not...My concern is, are we once again, just studying an issue that we’re just going to study or take action at some time.”

Although condemnations and tolls would currently be outside legislative oversight, Staples said the Legislature ultimately has authority to do anything it wants, including repealing HB 3588, though he did not suggesting this should be done.

Robert Nichols , commissioner for the Texas Department of Transportation, addressed the senators’ questions. When Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) wanted to know the cost the state would incur if the plan were abolished, he put the number at around $20 million. But he said the state’s current needs argued against abolishing one plan without another in place.

Congestion in Texas , he said, has grown so bad that I-35 is “plugged” during most daylight hours. The improvement costs in the Waco district alone, he said, added up to $1.8 billion. Under current funding schemes, that bottleneck would take up to 18 years to solve, and would mean “orange cones” on I-35 for a large portion of that time – a prospect he said was the traveling public’s worst nightmare. At that, Nichols said, such a project would only get Texas up to current capacity.

Nichols outlined several other problems:

* Upgrades to highways within city limits means condemning existing businesses or homes, often at great expense. Even so, some areas can never be expanded laterally, such as I-35 in downtown Austin .

* Not only would businesses and homes have to be removed, but valuable infrastructure – built at great expense by the taxpayers of Texas – would have to be torn up. In the Waco district, 110 overpasses too narrow for additional lanes would have to be bulldozed and replaced to expand I-35 in the traditional way.

That makes moving new lanes outside of town the only real option, he said, and tolling the only means of getting them built in time to keep up with demand.

Farmers, ranchers opposed

That stance has brought opposition from the Texas Farm Bureau, which voted recently to oppose the corridor plan. Nacogdoches farmer, and Farm Bureau member, Albert Thompson outlined the organization’s reasons.

“As proposed, the Trans Texas Corridor provides for rights-of-way through rural Texas of up to 1,200 feet,” Thompson said. “If considered as acreage, it amounts to 146 acres per road mile. Furthermore, the corridor will negatively affect wildlife and hunting in many areas of the state in which hunting has become a major part of farm and ranch income. We believe the impact will be devastating to the agricultural industry and to rural communities.”

The extra width of the corridor, Nichols said, is to include space for rail lines, pipelines or other infrastructure.

But Sen. Jon Lindsay (R-Houston) said he has spoken with rail and pipeline companies who indicate that they aren’t as interested in utilizing the corridor as TxDOT thinks. Lindsay questioned the need for so much space, although Nichols said the 1,200-foot width was only an un-guaranteed maximum.

Another Farm Bureau concern is the dividing up of land. Thompson pointed out that with the current design of the project, a farmer whose property is split in two might be forced to drive as much as 30 miles to reach an overpass over the corridor, then drive that same distance back down the other side, just to get to his land across the roadway. Because equipment like tractors and combines must travel at slow speeds or be loaded onto trucks, costs to farmers in fuel and time would be staggering, he said.

“Not listening”

Shapiro said despite need for the Trans Texas Corridor, the plan is causing some concern among her constituents and around the state.

“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction out there amongst the troops,” she said. “The people that should be your allies are very angry about the process. My feeling is that we shouldn’t just take [the Trans Texas Corridor] and just toss it to the wind and forget it, but just start listening a little bit.

“One major focus of TxDOT is ,they don’t listen. Period,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what the project is. So when you come up with this big, giant, wonderful idea that may very well be the best thing that we can do for the state of Texas , you’re not listening.”

Nichols said TxDOT has conducted hearings in every county in the state, and is now on the second and third hearings in some area. After he described the format of the hearings, Shapiro said, “So you’re not really listening to those complaints, you’re just trying to convince them of your side.”

Sen. Eliot Shapleigh (D-El Paso) expressed concern that the corridor project, and the shift to tolling new highways as created fear that those not tolling would miss out on funds.

Nichols said there was no requirement that roads be tolled to get funding, but admitted that areas that do toll will get a priority for funding. If communities don’t want to “leverage” their funds to move projects forward, he said, that will be their decision.

“The short answer is that bond money will migrate to communities that leverage” their projects, Shapleigh said. O

The Lone Star Report:


Will toll roads trump education in the 79th Legislature?


TxDOT eyes freight lines

Plan to move railroads from urban centers is among pricey priorities

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

Correct: CORRECTION: John Langmore is an independent land use and transportation consultant. This story misstated his position. Correction published 2/12/05.

Texas transportation officials want $100 million a year to relocate railroad lines that clog traffic in Houston and other urban areas.

The appropriation is among the Texas Department of Transportation's legislative requests, which also include a push to increase TxDOT's ability to finance toll roads.

Ric Williamson of Weatherford, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees TxDOT, acknowledged it's not going to be easy to ask for more money as the Legislature continues struggling with how to fund public education.

But the commission contends the benefits of rail relocation are so enormous - including potentially moving more freight from trucks to trains, which would reduce traffic and wear and tear on state highways - that lawmakers have to find the money this year so the process can get started.

The effort has the support of officials in Houston and Texas ' other large metropolitan areas, who want freight lines consolidated into grade-separated corridors.

That would speed freight delivery and reduce grade-level railroad crossings that stop traffic and are dangerous to cars, officials say. And rerouting some freight lines could free up urban tracks for passenger service such as commuter rail.

TxDOT also wants to increase the money it can spend on toll roads by abolishing a law capping state tollway expenditures at $800 million per year. "Transportation is a little too important right now to have an artificial limitation like that," Williamson said.

Commissioner John Johnson of Houston said transportation historically has been a topic of high interest among many legislators, and that makes it easier to sell the department's wish list.

"We believe that our agenda is going to be heard, and hopefully most of it will be passed," Johnson said. "Transportation is a very important piece of the state's business."

TxDOT changes gears

The requested freight line appropriation marks a shift in the department's focus. TxDOT historically has been a highway agency rather than a multimodal transportation department. This session, however, it wants to leap into the freight railroad business by obtaining the funds to help private railroads relocate their tracks outside city centers.

It is asking the Legislature to appropriate $100 million a year from general revenue to establish a rail relocation bonding program, which would have to be approved by voters as an amendment to the state constitution. Legislators also would have to change state laws that limit the amount of money TxDOT may spend on nonhighway projects.

"This cycle our focal point is absolutely going to be on rail," Williamson said. "The issue almost sells itself. There is a growing realization across the state if we could put freight rail outside urban centers, we would. And there's growing realization with the price of oil and gas and air-quality issues, the time to build a market-friendly commuter rail system is now."

Looking at the gas tax

John Langmore, a consultant to House Transportation Chairman Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock (SEE CORRECTION), said the rail relocation fund will be a high priority but funding will be a challenge.

"These rail lines currently run through urban centers, making their use for other purposes very attractive," Langmore recently told the Houston-Galveston Area Council's Transportation Policy Council. "But that makes it expensive to do anything with that. We are not going to, won't be able to, create new taxes, yet we're looking at $20 billion statewide to deal with all the rail relocations."

Langmore said Krusee intends to draft legislation indexing the state gasoline tax to inflation in the construction industry. The current 20-cent tax - 15 cents for transportation and public safety, 5 cents for schools - has not been raised since 1991. That means the purchasing power of the gas tax has declined thanks to 14 years of inflation.

"This could potentially be a tough sell, but he's going to pursue that," Langmore said.

Gov. Rick Perry opposes the idea, however, and it is not on the TxDOT agenda. Instead, its recommendations focus on finding other ways to pay.

"To meet current statewide transportation needs, the state gas tax would have to increase by about $1 per gallon," according to the department's report to the House and Senate. "The cost to drivers would be exorbitant."

Tolls also represent a cost to drivers, but only to the ones using a certain road. The state has been moving toward toll roads in the past few years. Texas 130, a 49-mile Interstate 35 bypass around Austin, is under construction as a tollway.

In December, commissioners approved negotiating a development agreement with a Spanish company to build the first segment of the Trans -Texas Corridor from Dallas to San Antonio. The company would privately finance a 316-mile tollway, estimated to cost $6 billion, in exchange for the toll revenue for 50 years. The corridor is a major initiative by Perry to create a statewide network of highways, railroads and pipelines.

Texas Mobility Fund

TxDOT wants the authority to broker more deals like the Dallas-San Antonio toll road.

The department also wants the Legislature to direct more money into the Texas Mobility Fund, which voters authorized in a 2001 constitutional amendment that let TxDOT issue bonds to help build highways.

Legislators began funding it in 2003 by funneling certain transportation revenues into the fund and by adding a surcharge to some traffic tickets.

The commission soon plans to issue up to $ 3billion in bonds, much of which would be loaned to local governments for toll roads and High Occupancy Toll lanes, which allow carpools and buses to travel for free but require a toll from single-occupant vehicles. Some are under construction on the Katy Freeway in west Houston.

Commissioner Robert Nichols of Jacksonville worries it could be another 10 to 15 years before the next round of projects could be financed out of the Mobility Fund unless more cash flows into it. TxDOT recommends directing more transportation taxes and fees into the fund.


Some Transportation Department priorities for the 2005 session:

Rail relocation: Appropriate $100 million per year for a bonding program to move freight rail lines out of urban centers

Rail expenditures: Remove $12.5 million annual limit on state railroad spending

Toll investment: Remove $800 million annual cap on state investment in tollways

Toll revenue: Authorize use of surplus toll revenue on nontollway projects

Reimbursements: Allow the state to build a highway and be paid back later by local government or private company

Texas Mobility Fund: Direct more transportation fees and taxes into the fund

Houston Chronicle:


Thursday, February 10, 2005

House Bill 3588: Quote of the day.


Compiled from staff and wire reports
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

Quote of the day

"Regardless of whether or not we knew what we were doing, we did it."
--Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston

Recalling at Wednesday's first meeting how easily the Senate Transportation Committee approved Trans-Texas Corridor projects in the 2003 legislative session.

Austin American-Statesman:


Speed Bump?

Speed bump for highway

Staff and Wire Reports
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

Farmers oppose it, metro area officials are upset about it and now state lawmakers have their own concerns about the Trans -Texas Corridor , Gov. Rick Perry's $184 billion plan to build megahighways around the state.

While the Legislature would seem unlikely to put the brakes on Perry's ambitious transportation plan, lawmakers appear willing to start tinkering with policies regarding tolls, eminent domain and just how wide the corridor will be.

"Change brings about cause for concern," said state Sen. Todd Staples, R-Palestine, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security.

The committee heard invited testimony from state Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols, the Texas Farm Bureau and other groups affected by the plan that could include concrete and rail corridors snaking around the state and stretching as wide as 1,200 feet in some areas, with enough room for cars, trucks, trains, pipelines and utility cables.

-- Compiled from staff and wire reports

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Five-county commuter rail urged in Dallas-Fort Worth Area

5-county commuter rail urged

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

ARLINGTON--Improved highways and byways, and a regional rail system are some of the strategies officials hope will make Metroplex travel easier, a League of Women Voters-Arlington meeting was told Monday evening.

There is a "definite" proposal for commuter rail through Arlington to link downtown Fort Worth and Dallas, said Councilman Steve McCollum at the League meeting at Westminster Presbyterian Church,

The rail service on the Union Pacific right of way is part of the Mobility 2025's proposed regional rail system. That plan is a combination of policies, programs and projects developed by the Regional Transportation Council, an arm of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

McCollum, a city representative to the transportation council, detailed the plan and the state's proposed north-south Trans -Texas Corridor that could route rail freight and truck traffic around the Metroplex.

The regional rail system could be paid for through an increase in sales taxes, motor-fuel taxes or other fees, officials have said. That could mean raising the sales tax by a half-cent in all of Tarrant, Johnson and Ellis counties, as well as in areas of Dallas and Collin counties that are not members of Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

Transportation officials want state approval for a five-county referendum on commuter rail, even if the Legislature does not approve a boost in the maximum allowed sales tax rate from 8.25 cents 8.75 cents, needed because many cities are at the cap.

"This is the most important transportation question put to the Metroplex," McCollum said,

Barbara Prabhu, league co-president, said "there are a lot of ifs" and costly proposals. "The public needs to know more about what is being proposed," she said.

About $45 billion could be spent on the 2025 plan, including about $14 billion to maintain roads; $11.9 billion for new freeways and toll roads; $8.8 billion for trains, buses and other transit; $5.8 billion to improve roads within cities, $1.4 billion for special vehicle lanes and nearly $1 billion in bicycle route and sidewalk improvements, officials have said.

Neil Strassman, (817) 548-5520

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Monday, February 07, 2005

Texas 130: Six lanes of Trans-Texas Corridor already under construction.

Sit up and take note of Perry's plan

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

Back when the Trans -Texas Corridor seemed to be only a 4,000-mile, $180 billion gleam in Gov. Rick Perry's eye -- that is, a year ago -- it was easy not to take it seriously.

The Texas Department of Transportation held informational meetings in all 254 Texas counties, and almost nobody came. At the one in Bastrop, there were three real human beings, plus me and about a half-dozen Transportation Department employees who looked like they'd much rather have been at home with a cold one and their feet up.

A second round of 26 meetings in the spring drew about 30 civilians each, then the third go-round in the fall ginned up 2,891 people. Or about 1 out of every 7,600 Texans.

It's a little embarrassing to admit, but the Austin American-Statesman's transportation reporter was among the 7,599 no-shows.

But everything changed in mid-December, when the Texas Transportation Commission, with Perry on hand looking like a cat who had consumed an entire pet shop of canaries, announced that a consortium led by Spanish toll road builder Cintra was willing to build 300-plus miles of Trans -Texas Corridor, from San Antonio to the Oklahoma border, footing the $6 billion cost alone and throwing another $1.2 billion the state's way.

That instantly reframed the discussion from "What was Rick thinking?!!?" to "Is this superhighway going through my barnyard?" And that gives the next round of 47 public meetings, due to start today in Dallas and Sherman, considerably more cachet.

Not so much in Central Texas , where, as it turns out, we already have six lanes of Trans-Texas Corridor under construction: Texas 130. What Cintra builds, assuming the Spanish company and the state reach accord on an initial planning contract, would connect to the 49-mile Texas 130 tollway on its south end near Creedmoor and its north end near Georgetown.

But even here, Texas 130 might not be all of the Trans -Texas Corridor we see. As Perry proposed it, the corridor would have six lanes for cars and four for trucks, six rail lines and room for pipelines and electric lines.

So, what are these meetings about? Well, there's a long process under federal law that requires highway builders to take into account environmental, sociological and economic effects in deciding where and what to build. These public meetings are part of the fact-gathering. Transportation Department officials say that what they hear will help them narrow the road's path to a 10-mile-wide corridor .

The Austin meeting is at 5 p.m. Feb. 28 at the East Communities YMCA, 5315 Ed Bluestein Blvd. (U.S. 183).

Right now, the state has a thoroughly baffling map (available at www.keeptexas, along with a list of the meetings) that shows a tangle of 10-mile-wide snakes going from Oklahoma, circling around or through the Metroplex, going east of Waco, Austin and San Antonio, and then heading to Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley.

If you want to help the state select a snake, you have your chance in the next two months.

Getting There appears Mondays. For questions, tips or story ideas, contact Getting There at (512) 445-3698 or

Copyright (c) 2005 Austin American-Statesman

Austin American-Statesman:


Sunday, February 06, 2005

"Why use your Texas money to build roads when some fool Spaniards are willing to do it for you?"

Private tollways proven in Europe

Company aims to use 'new idea' with history of success in Texas

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

MADRID, Spain -- Drivers heading south from Madrid, perhaps on their way to the Med- iterranean coast, can start their journey on a brand-new six-lane divided highway called the R-4.

But there's a price for the privilege, a toll that comes out to about 8.5 U.S. cents per mile, to be collected and pocketed by a private company.

A great deal about this road is private. Its 60-mile length, 33 miles covered by tolls, was built with about $936 million in private money. A private control center monitors live video of the highway, counting cars, checking for wrecks and watching for congestion.

The highway will be maintained with private money. The snow will be moved with private plows. The ice will be melted with private salt.

Now the Madrid-based, family-controlled company that built and operates the R-4 wants to do the same thing in Texas . The company, Grupo Ferrovial, wants to build sections of the planned Trans -Texas Corridor , a multiple-use passage for cars, trucks, trains and utilities that would run from the lower Rio Grande to the Oklahoma state line.

Company executives expect to sign an agreement with Texas officials soon. No signing date has been set.

Under the agreement, it is anticipated that the state will pay Cintra, a subsidiary of Ferrovial, and Cintra's minority partner in the Texas proposal, San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, $3.5 million for its advice about how to route the highway to make it most attractive to drivers, and which commercially viable segments to build first in order to have tolls from those sections help finance the construction of other segments where tolls would not be feasible.

Those other segments, the idea is, would be built by other companies. Texas officials hope the entire corridor will be completed within 50 years, but there is, of course, no guarantee that will happen.

When that planning is complete, if Ferrovial finds the terms agreeable, it will get the chance to build those initial segments without an open procurement process. Ferrovial would spend an estimated $6 billion to build five tollways along the route, all between Dallas and San Antonio, at no cost to the state.

Two portions of the route won't be built by Ferrovial: a portion of Texas 130 that is under construction and a section along Interstate 10 east of San Antonio that is included among the facilities to be built in the corridor .

Construction on Ferrovial's segments would begin within five years.

The Cintra-led partnership would get the right to charge tolls on the roads it builds for 50 years to recoup its $6 billion investment, generate $1.2 billion to help develop other sections of the corridor and, of course, make a profit.

The amount of the tolls, which has been a point of contention at a Cintra-run toll road in Canada, has not yet been negotiated between the company and Texas officials.

Once the roads are built, they would be managed by Cintra, which already operates 17 toll roads in six countries, including, as of last year, the United States.

This is not a concept that meets with universal approval.

"Why would Cintra expend $7.2 billion on this project?" a group called CorridorWatch, which is opposed to the Trans -Texas Corridor , asked in a statement. "Because they see a golden opportunity to make a profit. A lot of profit. . . . Where will the Cintra profits go? Madrid?"

Nicolas Rubio, business development director for Cintra, said that is the wrong way to look at the deal. Rather than thinking about the money Ferrovial will take out of Texas , he said, it is important to focus on how much money Ferrovial will put in.

"You can use your Texas money to build hospitals and pay for education," he said. "Why use your Texas money to build roads when some fool Spaniards are willing to do it for you?"

Private entrant

The practice of having private companies build and operate toll roads is new in the United States, said Neil Gray, director of government affairs for the Washington-based International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

"Cintra is probably the first entrant of that nature" in the U.S. market, he said, referring to the Texas proposal.

But it is old hat in Europe. Ferrovial got its first such contract, for another road in Spain, 37 years ago, in 1968.

The company now manages 17 toll roads in six countries, including Ireland and Chile and, most recently, the United States.

Cintra was the leader in a partnership that last year paid the City of Chicago $1.83 billion to lease for 99 years the Chicago Skyway, a 7.8-mile-long elevated toll road that stretches from the city's South Side to the Indiana border. City officials wanted the money so they could reduce debt and increase reserves and investments.

Although Ferrovial is among the largest companies engaged in building and running toll roads, it is by no means the only company in Europe to engage in such public-private partner- ships.

ASECAP, an association based in Brussels, Belgium, of companies that operate toll highways and tunnels, lists various such projects in a dozen European countries.

The locations include Spain, which was among the first to participate in such partnerships, and Croatia, which, when it was part of Yugoslavia, was communist -- and privatized almost nothing.

Although there are some publicly operated toll roads, the norm in Europe is for them to be operated privately, ASECAP says. The reason is one that may resonate soon in the United States: Governments often do not have enough money to build the roads they need. Private companies do.

In Europe, there seems to be scant opposition to the arrangements.

"If you see motorways in France and Italy, they are well-maintained, they offer good services; so, of course, the users know that they have to pay tolls," an ASECAP spokesman said.

Although the roads are privately operated, governments control many areas of their operations. Governments control speed limits, impose safety regulations and regulate construction standards, lighting, signage and other aspects of the highways' construction and operation.

Final control of the roads always rests with the governments, which can direct their use at will -- in evacuations, other emergencies or other situations.

And if the private company fails to meet its obligations, it can lose the concession.

Public vs. private

Although the partnerships are accepted in Europe, Ferrovial executives acknowledged in recent interviews that some people in the United States oppose privatization of functions that traditionally have been performed by governments.

But they maintained that a concessionary agreement makes a private company far less likely to cut corners in the interest of profit than a company that fulfills a contract and disappears once the paint on the centerline is dry.

A company with a concession is responsible for long-term maintenance and has no interest in a poorly built road, they said. And to recoup its investment, they insisted, it must depend on the good will of drivers, who will not pay to drive on roads that are inconvenient, poorly maintained or dangerous.

"When there is such a long-term contract, there is no one cutting corners in any way, because it will hurt you," said Rafael del Pino, Ferrovial's chairman.

And he said that, with money to be collected, construction delays are less likely to crop up.

"It is in the best interest of the concessionaire to bring the project online as soon as possible," he said.

Ferrovial executives also applauded the unusual decision by Texas officials to involve them in the planning. Normally, in the view of company executives, all the planning is done by state officials, who may not have deep knowledge of what makes a toll road a total success.

"I think we have a lot of experience with many different projects in different countries in building, designing and operating toll roads," said Fidel Saenez de Ormijana, highway design manager for Ferrovial Agroman, the company's construction unit.

Although Ferrovial has long experience in the field, Rubio said officials with the Texas Department of Transportation will be "in the driver's seat, making the decisions" as plans for the road are developed.

Del Pino said the project is very important to Ferrovial, in part because of its size, but also because it represents the company's entry into the U.S. market of private road construction. And that is a market in which he expects this kind of public-private highway partnership to take off.

Government debt in many places in the United States is near its maximum, he said, but at the same time, there is an unsatisfied need for more infrastructure.

To del Pino, that represents an opportunity.

"History proves we have been able to satisfy the needs of the user and the government," he said.

Copyright (c) 2005 Austin American-Statesman

Austin American-Statesman:


Ferrovial: Road Builder for Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi

Ferrovial sees U.S. as fertile for private pacts

Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

MADRID, Spain -- Grupo Ferrovial, a large Spanish company that hopes to build and operate toll roads in Texas, was founded in 1952 as a construction firm specializing in civil engineering projects such as roads and airports.

Fifty-three years later, it has evolved into a diversified international group that has controlling or partial interests in airports in England, Northern Ireland, Australia, Mexico and Chile. It runs toll roads, most of which it also built, in six countries including Ireland and Chile. It even runs, through a subsidiary it acquired in 2003, three lines of the London Underground.

It has become, according to Family Business magazine, one of the largest family-controlled companies in the world.

Ferrovial officials see the United States as increasingly fertile ground for public-private partnerships. Executives of Cintra, a subsidiary of which Ferrovial owns 60 percent, are poised to sign an agreement soon with the Texas Department of Transportation to offer advice about how to plan the Trans -Texas Corridor .

The company also is prepared to invest $6 billion to build the roads at no cost to Texas, in exchange for the right to collect the tolls, under a formula yet to be negotiated, for 50 years.

The company has expanded rapidly under Rafael del Pino the younger, a man described by colleagues as blunt, sometimes difficult to work for and brilliant.

Shown no favoritism at the outset by his father, he began his career in the hinterlands.

"I worked in Libya for one year. I built roads there for Gadhafi -- bomb-proof roads," he joked, referring to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Having trained as a civil engineer in Madrid, del Pino went to the United States in the mid-1980s, where he earned a master's degree in business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He became chief executive officer of Ferrovial in 1992. He was named vice chairman in 1999 and chairman in 2000. Now, at 46, he is also chairman of Cintra.

The company went public five years ago; the del Pino family still controls 58 percent of it.

His tenure at the top has coincided with an aggressive global expansion. The company also changed its profile, concentrating much more on services and infrastructure, with construction as a reduced portion of its activities.

As a rule, the company invests in projects in which it holds a controlling interest. If it is going to invest in a project, it wants to run it.

The strategy has paid off.

Between 1996 and 2003, sales more than tripled, to the equivalent of $7.8 billion. Operating income increased more than 14 times, to $800 million.

"I think we have a unique combination of engineering and construction experience on the one side and financial and traffic forecasting on the other," del Pino said. And, he said, the company has been willing to take on long-term risks.

Ferrovial's projects have not been popular with everyone. Its North American toll road operations began in 1999 when a group it led obtained a 99-year contract to operate and extend the 407 ETR highway in Toronto, an all-electronic toll road that never requires drivers to slow down to be charged.

A new government subsequently came to power in Ontario, having campaigned in part on a pledge to reduce the tolls that Cintra charged. But because the contract negotiated by the previous government allowed Cintra to regulate the tolls in any way it saw fit, three courts have ruled in Cintra's favor.

Del Pino said Ontario officials seem to have forgotten that they got $3.1 billion for the concession and that their other main concern at the time was that congestion on nearby roads be reduced.

Cintra officials say that tolls on its portions of the Trans -Texas Corridor could be negotiated in any way that is satisfactory to all parties.

Del Pino said Ferrovial's experience with toll roads, in which the company's income is determined by how many people choose to use the road, makes it likely that drivers will be happy with its work in Texas .

"We have found that we are more efficient than government in bringing that infrastructure into place," he said. "I think the whole process becomes more efficient when it is in private hands, because the design is adapted to the needs of the user."
Austin American-Statesman: