Sunday, December 31, 2006

Cintra and Zachry hope to reap tolls from State Highway 36 toll conversion project

San Antonio Company Would Widen Highway 36, Run It As A Toll Road

Dec 31, 2006

by Bob Dunn
Fort Bend Now
Copyright 2006

One of two companies vying for the right to build the controversial Trans Texas Corridor now plans to widen State Highway 36 to four lanes, at its own cost, and then charge motorists a toll to use the road.

San Antonio construction company Zachry American Infrastructure has received the blessing of Brazoria County commissioners to pursue the project in that county with the Texas Department of Transportation.

And according to The Facts newspaper, Fort Bend County Judge Bob Hebert has met with Zachry American representatives and wrote a Dec. 18 letter to TxDOT expressing an interest in allowing the company to expand Highway 36 and turn it into a toll road in Fort Bend County as well.

Hebert could not be reached for comment on Sunday morning.

“With another hurricane season fast approaching, the Highway 36 project is a priority to our counties and the Gulf Coast,” The Fact quoted Hebert as saying in his letter to TxDOT. “The public-private approach assures the timely development of the project.”

In Brazoria County, Zachry American plans to widen Highway 36 to four lanes from Port Freeport to West Columbia, maintain the highway at its own expense for the next 35 years and collect a toll from motorists.

The company wants to extend the project through Fort Bend County, and also through Austin County, to Interstate 10.

The Facts quoted Brazoria County Judge-elect E.J. King as saying he supports the private development project, but that it would do no good as a hurricane evacuation route unless it extends beyond Brazoria.

Brazoria County commissioners reportedly have scheduled a meeting with Hebert to further discuss the proposed toll road project.

According to news reports, Zachry American is one of two companies (the other is ACS Infrastructure Development) that submitted documents to TxDOT in October showing their interest in building the Trans Texas Corridor from the Texarkana area to the Mexican border.

Also interested is Bluebonnet Infrastructure Investors, financed by Spanish infrastructure company Cintra. A partnership of Zachry and Cintra has already been chosen to build a toll segment along Interstate 35 in conjunction with the Trans Texas project.

The Cintra-Zachry partnership also signed a $1.3 billion, 50-year lease agreement a few months ago to build a 40-mile toll road between Austin and Sequin, and then later filed a lawsuit to prevent details of the contract from being made public.

According to Mother Jones magazine news reports, Dan Shelley, former legislative director for Gov. Rick Perry, was a consultant and lobbyist for Cintra before he joined the governor’s staff. In September 2005, he went back to work for the Spanish company, where he and his daughter are now employed to lobby the Texas Legislature.

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