Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cintra proposes Texas-sized triple bypass to boost bottom line

Corridor plan depends on how the money flows

03/23/2006 12:00

Patrick Driscoll
San Antonio Express-News

AUSTIN — Jose Lopez, Cintra's director for North and South America, has some ideas on where to build the first sections of the colossal Trans Texas Corridor, and the analysis boils down to a simple equation.

"It's the money," he told a state advisory committee Wednesday. His ideas:

To get the most money the fastest, Texas 130 toll lanes should be extended 46 miles from Lockhart to Seguin. The segment to Georgetown is to open next year, and if all goes well, the rest could open in four years.

Then a 105-mile toll bypass east of Dallas would make the most sense, followed by toll lanes from Dallas to Texas 130, with work starting by 2010.

"This is what will attract the most cars," Lopez said.

The Trans Texas Corridor is a 4,000-mile network of car and truck lanes, freight and passenger rail lines and utility lines that Gov. Rick Perry proposed four years ago.

Cintra, a Spanish company, and Zachry Construction of San Antonio in 2004 offered $6 billion to build the San Antonio-Dallas toll road and pay $1.2 billion to operate it and collect toll fees for up to 50 years.

Some of the $1.2 billion could relocate freight rail around Austin, and build a toll road around Southeast San Antonio to link Texas 130 traffic to Interstate 35.

That's the financial perspective, which omits high-speed rail and the border for at least 20 years.

"That's the problem when it's driven by money," said committee member Linda Stall of Fayetteville, a critic of the Trans Texas Corridor.

Then there's politics, and questions.

Dallas and Fort Worth officials want toll lanes through the Metroplex instead of around it, and they've come up with ways to use Cintra-Zachry's $1.2 billion there.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: