Monday, August 21, 2006

"Arrogant beyond belief."

Trans-Texas Corridor has no hope as long as secrecy reigns


Jaime Castillo:
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2006

It has gotten to the point where you don't know whether to pity Gov. Rick Perry and the toll road zealots in this state or arm some of their equally scary foes with pitchforks and torches to storm the governor's mansion.

And I say that as someone who is willing to give Perry and company the benefit of the doubt and agree that new funding mechanisms like tollways should be part of the state's solution to future highway needs.

But the way state transportation officials are approaching the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 50-year plan to produce a statewide network of toll roads and rail and utility lines, invites only two explanations:

Either they aren't smart enough to pass the TAKS, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, we give schoolchildren every year, or they're arrogant beyond belief.

I don't think it's the former. Perry hasn't gotten this far by being all hair and no cattle, and the group awarded the first phase of the huge highway contract, Cintra-Zachry, is a marriage of two highly successful and profitable companies.

So, I'm going to buy a vowel and go with the "A" word.

And it goes beyond the usual gripes about the $7 billion superhighway, which include gobbling up vast amounts of private land and turning over the infrastructure to be run by private interests.

The biggest problem the public should have with this deal is the secrecy in which it has been put together.

Cintra, a Spain-based company, and its minority partner, Zachry Construction Corp. of San Antonio, are fighting tooth and nail in court to keep the financial aspects of the arrangement out of the public eye.

And it's a posture Cintra continued last week when the Dallas Morning News reported that Perry's former liaison to the Legislature, Dan Shelley, had gone back to work for the highway builder, this time as a lobbyist.

Two years ago, it came to light that Shelley had worked as a consultant for the company prior to being hired by the governor's office. State officials deny the arrangement had anything to do with Cintra being awarded the corridor contract a few months later.

So what is Shelley's or Cintra's response to the latest news unearthed by the Dallas Morning News?

Silence. In the newspaper's words, "A call to Mr. Shelley seeking comment was returned by an Austin spokeswoman for Madrid-based Cintra, who said that Mr. Shelley's contract with the company prohibits him from discussing his work with reporters."

Despite this arrogance, Perry and state highway officials push ahead with the belief that tolls and private involvement in public roads are merely a dose of bad-tasting medicine that will relieve the symptoms of future traffic congestion.

With some justification, Perry has even invited his opponents in November's crowded gubernatorial race to come up with an alternative or be quiet.

"If someone has a better idea ... please lay out the plan," Perry was quoted as saying in Sunday's Austin American-Statesman.

Here's a plan, Mr. Governor: If you want to have a chance at getting public support for the Trans-Texas Corridor, either call on Cintra-Zachry to stop being so secretive or ask it to stop bidding on public contracts.

To contact Jaime Castillo,

call (210) 250-3174 or e-mail His column appears on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

© 2006 San Antonio Express-News: