Saturday, March 12, 2005

Trans-Texas Corridor given go ahead

State gets in fast lane to new toll road system

Go-ahead given for planning Trans Texas Corridor segment.

March 12, 2005

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2005

As officials huddled Friday to sign the first contract for the Trans Texas Corridor , Gov. Rick Perry licked his lips, widened his eyes as he looked at the 2-inch-thick document, and then smiled.

The contract formed a public-private partnership to develop a 600-mile corridor of toll roads, rail lines and utility lines east of Interstate 35 - the first leg of a 4,000-mile network to be built across the state over 50 years.

Perry and others, buoyed by taking such a solid step forward, seemingly couldn't find enough adjectives to stress the significance of the concept.

They called it huge. Cutting-edge. Bold. Forward-looking.

"In Texas , we're not willing to wait for others to lead or innovate," Perry said shortly before the signing, held at the Texas Department of Transportation's main office.

"We do things better, faster and first," he said.

The contract, signed by officials with the transportation department, Cintra of Spain and Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio, is the first of many to follow for the Trans Texas Corridor segment that will parallel I-35.

This agreement authorizes $3.5 million for the two companies to create a master plan within 15 months to finance and build the segment.

The contract doesn't lock in the route's alignment, allow construction to start, set toll rates or rule out competition to determine who'll actually build and operate various sections.

Critics of the Trans Texas Corridor - including the Texas Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club and some of the towns and cities along I-35 - eagerly await such details.

Their concerns include loss of farmland and wildlife, lack of access to the corridor , bypassing of businesses and communities linked to I-35 and impacts that rising oil prices could have on driving habits and toll revenues.

"We will be monitoring," said David Stall of in an e-mail Friday.

By unleashing the power of the private sector to tackle choking traffic congestion, Texas is leading the way for the rest of the nation, said Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters, who joined Perry at Friday's ceremony.

She described it as the dawning of a new transportation era, comparing it to the launching of the nation's interstate highway system in the 1950s and the paving of roads in the first half of the century.

"It is not for the faint of heart, let me tell you," she said. "A few people have the courage to move us into the next generation of transportation improvements.

For the first phase of the Trans Texas Corridor , Cintra and Zachry have proposed spending $6 billion to build a four-lane toll road from San Antonio to Dallas and to reroute Union Pacific through trains out of San Antonio and Austin.

Work would start within five years, with an extension of Texas 130 from Lockhart to Seguin opening as soon as 2010. Texas 130 from Austin to Lockhart, already under construction, is expected to open in two years and fold into the Trans Texas Corridor .

Cintra and Zachry would sell needed bonds and shoulder the risk. They also offered to pay the state $1.2 billion for the right to operate the toll system.

Traffic levels on I-35 will help determine toll rates and limits on building competing public roads. A certain amount of congestion is needed to create a market for toll roads.

Motorists pay from 10 cents to 20 cents a mile to use toll roads in Houston and Dallas.

Within 15 years, work could start on toll lanes along Interstate 10 east of San Antonio and along Southwest Loop 1604, according to the Cintra and Zachry proposal.

Toll roads to the boarder, high-speed passenger rail between San Antonio and Dallas and new freight tracks from Austin to Dallas could follow after 2025.

© 2005 San Antonio Express-News:


Perry Signs Comprehensive Development Agreement

Texas signs deal for transportation corridor

Cintra-Zachry consortium plans system near 1-35

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2005

State leaders sealed a $7.2 billion partnership with an international consortium Friday to build the first portions of Gov. Rick Perry's proposed Trans-Texas Corridor road network.

The agreement signed by Cintra-Zachry officials and the Texas Department of Transportation commits the state to pay the consortium $3.5 million to develop a plan to design, finance and build the corridor. The corridor will roughly parallel Interstate 35 from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

A plan is expected to be complete in about a year. It will outline $6 billion in short-term projects that Cintra-Zachry has pledged to pay for and open between 2010 and 2014, including a toll road from North Texas to San Antonio. It also will lay out the vision for longer-term projects, including highway connections to the Mexico border and new passenger and freight rail lines, which could be built after 2025.

"In Texas, we're not waiting on others to lead or innovate, and we're not going to accept a future marred by gridlock and growing pollution problems," Mr. Perry said.

He called the agreement a "significant step towards a better, more reliable transportation system." He added that roads can be built cheaper and faster under the plan, and that the infusion of $7.2 billion into the Texas economy could result in 140,000 jobs.

Federal Highway Administrator Mary Peters attended the press conference and praised the public-private partnership. State officials have hailed the plan as a way to entice private companies to help build increasingly needed public infrastructure in an era of relatively stagnant tax revenue.

In December, the commission chose Madrid-based Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp. to develop the project. Cintra has a long history of building or operating transportation projects, including toll roads in Canada, Spain and Chile.

The corridor plan, as first laid out by Mr. Perry several years ago, calls for development of a network of new toll roads, rail lines and utility lines across the state. All parts could be built inside a single 1,200-foot-wide swath or located miles apart from each other.

Staff writer Christy Hoppe in Austin contributed to this report.


© 2005 The Dallas Morning News Co


Ric Williamson on CDA with Cintra Zachry: "We'll get a share of the tolls when they recover their investment."

State, partnership sign deal on I-35 toll bypass

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2005

The State of Texas and Cintra Zachry LP made what could be a 50-year marriage official Friday, signing a 103-page agreement for the Spanish toll road operator and its Texas partner to spend the next year or so creating a detailed plan for a tollway alternative to Interstate 35.

That 300-plus-mile road from San Antonio to Oklahoma north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area would be the first leg of the Trans -Texas Corridor , Gov. Rick Perry's 4,000-mile vision of superhighways, railroad clusters and utility easements. This first road would be called TTC-35.

Perry was on hand Friday, literally looking over their shoulders, as Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director Michael Behrens, Rafael del Pino, executive chairman of Cintra parent Grupo Ferrovial SA, and Zachry Construction Corp. President David Zachry signed three copies of the agreement and its 400 pages of supporting exhibits.

San Antonio-based Zachry will hold about a 15 percent interest in the partnership, officials said in December.

"In Texas , we do things bigger, better and first," Perry said.

The so-called comprehensive development agreement signed Friday contemplates paying Cintra Zachry $3.5 million for its short-term planning tasks.

The partnership would cover the $6 billion investment to build the several segments of the road, assuming it gets the go-ahead later from the state to do the construction, and would pay the state a total of $1.2 billion in concession fees.

The agreement is as notable for what it doesn't contain as for what it does.

The contract, for instance, does not address toll rates on the coming road, or operation of ancillary facilities along the tollway such as gas stations or hotels, or the $1.2 billion in concession payments, or any possible sharing of toll road profits down the road. Those all-important specifics will instead be part of separate agreements in the coming years.

"We'll get a share of the tolls when they recover their investment," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, but the terms of such an income split will have to be negotiated.

The contract does guarantee Cintra Zachry the first shot at $400 million of the total cost of TTC-35, granting it first negotiation rights for that much work. All other segments could, in theory at least, go to other contractors.

That includes the likely first segment: the final 40 miles of Texas 130 from Mustang Ridge to Interstate 10 at Seguin.

The state, which expects completion of the northern 49 miles by the end of 2007, has already received environmental clearance for that section, according to Phillip Russell, director of the state Transportation Department's turnpike division. Russell said the state could have an agreement within a year with Cintra Zachry, or Lone Star Infrastructure, which is building the first 49 miles of Texas 130, or some other contractor.

Behrens said that if all goes as expected, that southerly section could be open for vehicles as soon as 2010.

As for the other sections of TTC-35, the planning process over the next 12 to 15 months will clarify when specific parts are built. In December, state officials said that the entire road should be done by 2014 and that tolls initially would be less than 20 cents a mile for passenger cars and pickups.

Under the comprehensive development agreement, the state and Cintra Zachry will spend the next 60 days "finalizing the scope of work" on their development of a master plan for TTC-35.

Russell said that should not be interpreted to mean that major issues remain to be worked out, but rather that there were some issues that legally couldn't be addressed until after a contract was signed. He said that those further talks on the scope of work would likely not result in any amendment to the agreement.; 445-3698

Copyright (c) 2005 Austin American-Statesman:


Stall: "There's far more structure in this agreement than we were led to believe."

Contract signed for toll road

March 12, 2005

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

A firm hired by the state to create a toll road from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio will get first dibs on performing at least $400 million of the $6 billion project itself, rather than putting the work out to bid.

The arrangement was among the details included in a contract signed Friday by executives of the firm, Cintra Zachry L.P., and the Texas Department of Transportation.

The contract formalizes the relationship between the state and Cintra Zachry, which in December agreed to build the 316-mile leg of the Trans -Texas Corridor with private funds in exchange for the right to collect and keep tolls for 50 years.

A clause in the contract gives the state the option of bidding out most of the road work to other companies, but Cintra Zachry gets first refusal on some of them.

"We have an opportunity for competition throughout this process," said Phillip Russell, director of the Transportation Department's turnpike division.

The project will create tens of thousands of jobs during the next six years, said Rafael del Pino, executive chairman of Grupo Ferrovial, Cintra Zachry's Madrid-based parent company. The 97-page contract details the relationship between the firm and the state, and creates a process for both parties to resolve any disputes over design, financing or other issues.

The agreement also identifies the Transportation Department as the lead agency for environmental studies, and provides guidance for both parties in the event part or all of the road can't be built because of environmental or other concerns. The agreement doesn't describe the toll road's route, nor the amount of tolls that motorists will pay. Those decisions will be made in a series of smaller contracts after the environmental study and a master plan are complete.

David Stall of Fayetteville, co-founder of Corridor Watch, a group that opposes the Trans -Texas Corridor , said the state rushed into the agreement, and many of the provisions could have waited until after a master plan was completed, perhaps in 12 to 18 months. The group opposes the corridor on the grounds that it focuses on company profits rather than transportation problems, and requires the state to buy up too much land for toll road right-of-way.

"There's far more structure in this agreement than we were led to believe," he said.

© 2005 Fort Worth Star-Telegram:


Thursday, March 10, 2005

"Governor's motives are open to question in light of the large campaign contributions he received from interests boosting the privatized corridors."

Speed bumps

With opponents turning up the heat, Trans -Texas Corridor planners need to fill in many blanks as the colossal project nears liftoff.

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

When first announced, Gov. Rick Perry's $175 billion, 4,000-mile transitway proposal seemed more visionary than practicable. Now that the project is on the verge of transforming itself from political rhetoric to concrete reality, opposition from a nonpartisan range of interests has taken on a sudden urgency. The opponents are discovering just how much they don't know about the biggest transit project to hit Texas since the creation of the interstate highway system.

The plan to allow a foreign consortium, Spain's Cintra, the right to build and operate massive tollways across the state for a half century has created an unlikely coalition of opponents. They range from Republicans concerned with property rights to small-town officials fearing the loss of highway commerce to environmentalists worried about the toll the concrete rivers will take on the state's ecology.

And don't leave out agricultural interests appalled by the potential paving over of millions of acres of arable Texas land and the splintering of hundreds of farms and ranches that eventually will fall in the corridors' path.

As Texas transportation officials negotiate details of a plan for implementing the first stages of the corridor project, many basic questions remain unanswered. They include details of project financing and decision-making, the public's right to information about construction and operational decisions, and the taxpayers' liability if the deal goes sour.

Gov. Perry touts the creation of the developer-funded system of 1,200-foot-wide corridors running from the Mexican border to Oklahoma as a revolutionary solution to the state's commercial transport needs. The super highways would divert traffic from urban areas along high-speed truck and auto lanes as well as multiple rail lines, alleviating big city gridlock and reducing pollution. The wide rights of way would provide ample space for communications cable and energy pipelines. Land condemned through the exercise of eminent domain by the state would allow the corridor operators to franchise roadside amenities such as hotels, restaurants and other businesses to supplement toll fees charged system users.

Cintra would put up $6 billion to construct the first link of the system running between San Antonio and Dallas paralleling I-35. According to project supporters, that so-called design and build formula would allow the construction of a new generation of tollways without using taxpayer dollars.

The governor's motives are open to question in light of the large campaign contributions he received from interests boosting the privatized corridors. One of Perry's top aides, Dan Shelley, recently worked for Cintra and introduced officials from the consortium to Texas transportation officials before a Perry-appointed highway commission awarded Cintra the project contract in December.

Although the governor's brainchild has enjoyed a high-speed trip down the legislative highway, the road gets rougher from here on out. Supporters must explain how the corridors will turn a profit. The one previous private tollway in Texas , Laredo's Camino Columbia turnpike, went bankrupt several years ago. An attempt to build a privately funded high-speed rail line in Texas in the 1980s foundered when studies revealed it was not economically feasible.

Texas lawmakers are readying a number of legislative amendments to Perry's corridor plan, including narrowing the rights of way, requiring frequent on and off ramps to guarantee easy access to nearby communities, and limiting commercial development along the corridors to private owners rather than the tollway operators.

Former Houston Mayor Bob Lanier, a past Texas Highway Commission chairman, says that the design and build contract awarded Cintra can pose big oversight problems for the state, because agencies will be hard-pressed to play watchdog on plans formulated by the contractors. There's also the question of the deal's lack of transparency. It is not clear whether Texas ' open government statutes would apply to the project.

"They are granting to the contractor without competitive dollar bid the right to make a whole lot of public decisions now and in the future," Lanier said. "The state should proceed very, very cautiously."

It's getting late in the process, but Texas lawmakers should ask the right questions now and get satisfactory answers before they allow the Trans -Texas Corridor to continue on its fast track to construction. If this is to be the premier transit project of an era, let's make certain it's going to be a boon rather than a boondoggle.

Houston Chronicle:


Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Ric Williamson: "The whole nation is watching Texas to see if we can pull it off."

Perry's massive transportation plan may face a bumpyroad to fruition

As the project unfolds, the nation is watching -its critics, in particular

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2005

Texas transportation officials are expected to negotiate a plan this month that would launch the Trans -Texas Corridor , Gov. Rick Perry's grandiose vision of future transportation.

The first planned route would run through Central Texas from Oklahoma to Mexico, and its first segment would be a four-lane toll road from Dallas to San Antonio. But officials in Houston and along the Gulf Coast are paying close attention.

They're not alone.

"The whole nation is watching Texas to see if we can pull it off," said Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson, Perry's appointee and go-to man for getting the corridor built.

The corridor is a new road-funding system that would use private developers to build and operate state-owned facilities under exclusive long-term contracts. It already has opposition, even in Perry's camp.

Critics object to the closed-door negotiations, the dearth of publicly available details, the 50-year exclusive contract granted without legislative approval and - especially - the condemnation of right of way for exclusive use by the developer.

When Perry unveiled his plan in 2002, artist's drawings showed a 4,000-mile, $175 billion network crisscrossing the state - each leg an unlovely but efficient transportation machine 1,200 feet wide, with toll roads for cars and trucks, tracks for freight and passenger trains, power lines overhead and pipelines underground.

On Dec. 16, the commission chose a bid from the Spanish firm Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA (Cintra for short) and its partners as the best of three submitted for the corridor, designated TTC-35. The Texas Department of Transportation will likely agree this week or next to negotiate a detailed plan with the company.

Cintra's toll road would run generally east of Interstate 35 past Dallas, Waco, Austin and San Antonio. If talks succeed and federal authorities give environmental clearance, bulldozers could crank up in 2007 and the project could be finished by 2018. If talks break down, TxDOT could negotiate with the next-best bidder.

Taking a look at U.S. 59

The toll road would just be a baby step, but it is big enough to alarm opponents and excite supporters, including Harris County Judge Robert Eckels.

"Taxpayers have not paid one dime for the Harris County toll road system, and we think the same thing can happen with major state routes," Eckels told a Clear Lake-area Republican club recently. A next likely candidate for development, he said, would follow U.S. 59 from Texarkana to the border, with a spur to the Port of Houston.

The Alliance for I-69 Texas has pushed for years to get U.S. 59 upgraded to an interstate highway - the so-called NAFTA Highway - to handle truck traffic expected from increasing trade with Mexico and Canada.

The alliance is "very supportive of the corridor idea" as a way of reaching its goal, said the group's administrator Anne Culver in Houston.

Given funding realities, Culver said, it is unlikely that both an interstate and a corridor would be built on the same route. She expects a tolled corridor , rather than an interstate, would eventually run near the present highway.

Culver said the Greater Houston Partnership hasn't taken a position on the corridor but supports the alliance.

She acknowledged that some smaller cities in the Interstate 69 alliance worry that the proposed corridor , designated I-69/TTC, would bypass them and that local businesses could not compete with the corridor 's exclusive developer.

But she said the eventual route could pass close enough to those towns to benefit them while also skirting far enough outside Houston to avoid contributing to local traffic jams and air pollution.

A concern for Wharton

Mayor Bryce Kocian of Wharton, 60 miles south of Houston on U.S. 59, hopes she's right. His town is a stop for travelers and truckers to and from South Texas beaches, the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico.

"We depend on that traffic to stop at our Wal-Mart and maybe grab a hamburger," Kocian said.

"I've been at meetings where they talk about how the Texas Transportation Commission is going to move the corridor 15 to 30 miles away from Wharton," Kocian said. "We hear different things all the time."

No counterpart to Cintra has made an offer to build an I-69 corridor, but Williamson said several have expressed interest.

Until that happens, it will be impossible to define the corridor route, which will depend on the developer's wishes, environmental studies, engineering requirements and state and local politics.

The state Republican Party platform calls condemning right of way for a profit-making toll road "confiscation of private land." And Mike Lavigne, chief of staff of the Texas Democratic Party, said the corridor gives Perry's rivals a big target, tapping resentment toward toll roads, overseas ownership and the condemnation issue.

Environmental harm cited

The Texas Farm Bureau also objects to the splitting of ranches and loss of local tax base. The state chairman of Texas Libertarians called the corridor "a scar across Texas " that will "divide counties, drain the state highway fund and ultimately fail." Even the conservative Eagle Forum's newsletter headlined an article about the corridor "Tyrannosaurus Tex."

"When it comes to change, there are always going to be some people upset," said Perry spokesman Robert Black.

"But I think you're going to have more and more people appreciate a governor and a state government that look way down the road and not just at what's good for the next two or three years."

On the environment, the Sierra Club says the corridor will destroy wildlife habitat and increase air pollution.

Williamson said the corridor 's state and federal environmental requirements are the same as for other road projects.

Williamson said Cintra would likely build first where traffic can yield profits, such as loops around the major cities, before connecting the dots between them. If a developer goes bankrupt, Williamson said, taxpayers will not be responsible. He said the development plans will be negotiated to cover "any conceivable scenario."



Cintra proposes spending $6 billion to build a four-lane toll road on the Trans -Texas Corridor . Details include:

The firm would pay the state $1.2 billion in return for the 50-year exclusive right to operate it.

It would operate businesses along the route.

After the 50 years are up, TxDOT could renew the agreement, contract with another company or operate the road itself.


For more information, go to, and The last includes a long discussion of the Cintra project, TTC-35, by the Texas Transportation Commission. See transcript of its Dec. 16 meeting.

Houston Chronicle:


Monday, March 07, 2005

Texas Transportation Commission accepts unsolicited bid from a Swedish firm on proposed Texas 121 toll road

Vive la difference!

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

It's not quite as impressive as the arrival of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or even the Kinks, but a recent trend on Texas roads is beginning to look like its own kind of European invasion.

Two months ago, a Spanish firm, Cintra, was selected to build the Trans -Texas Corridor , a toll road bypassing Interstate 35 from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio.

Now, a Swedish firm may have the inside track on a proposed Texas 121 toll road from Business 121 in Lewisville to U.S. 75 in McKinney.

The Texas Transportation Commission accepted an unsolicited bid last month by Stockholm-based Skanska BOT to build the toll road. The commission is asking other companies to submit competing bids over the next few months.

OK, let's get this straight: Trucks carrying goods from Mexico to Canada may be crossing Texas on pavement laid by companies from Spain and Sweden?

About the only thing American in the equation may be the currency changing hands at the toll plazas.

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: