Friday, December 22, 2006

New Jersey road privatization scheme: "The unintended consequences of this bad public policy are nearly incalculable."

Headed down wrong road


Asbury Park Press
Copyright 2006

Gov. Corzine says he will decide by May whether to sell or lease state assets — including toll roads — to help cut property taxes and pay down debt. That would give the state a large cash infusion in the near term. But it also could cause some major headaches — financial and otherwise — well into the future.

Leasing the state's toll roads is a one-shot budget gimmick — something Corzine pledged to avoid. Two recent deals in other parts of the country have state officials salivating: Chicago will get $1.83 billion for a 99-year lease of toll roads and Indiana will get $3.85 billion for a 75-year lease. But Chicago and Indiana motorists will also get skyrocketing tolls and roads that may not be maintained to standards to which they are accustomed.

"The unintended consequences of this bad public policy are nearly incalculable," Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, said Wednesday. He's right.

A broad coalition of groups — labor, environmental and anti-tax — urged the state Tuesday to proceed with caution before agreeing to lease the state's toll roads to a private company. As John Budzash, chairman of Hands Across New Jersey, put it: "If we can't do the job better than a private business, we are being run extremely poorly." He also echoed a lament we've often heard from our readers: that Corzine should start using his business acumen and run the state like a business. You don't sell off some of your best assets to close a short-term deficit — particularly if there are other cost-cutting options on the table.

Abigail C. Field, a lobbyist for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group, said there are few, if any, scenarios in which private ownership of the state's highways would benefit the taxpayers.

When Corzine was still a candidate, he spoke of his plans to reduce New Jersey's reliance on borrowed funds and budget gimmicks while protecting assets. In his March 21 budget speech, his second of four principles was: "We must stop borrowing and using gimmicks to pay today's bills." Leasing our toll roads runs counter to everything he's said — and to sound public policy.

Weary of short-term budgetary fixes that have done nothing to solve the state's long-term fiscal problems, New Jersey taxpayers should be more than skeptical of any plans to sell public assets that can only provide short-term property tax relief.

Corzine should dust off the "Management 101" agenda he boasted about as a candidate. The state should be able to run the toll roads less expensively and more efficiently and safely than a private company. It will take a leader with the gumption to toss out the political hacks and eliminate the no-show jobs and waste in the system. That's what voters expected when they elected Corzine: to see efficient business practices put into place. Not to make their roads a profit center for a private company.

StoryChat Comment:

Any up-front payment for the toll roads will be paid for with money borrowed by the "buyer."

And the borrowed money will be backed with increased toll revenue that the "buyer" gets to keep from sucker drivers.

Let's see... have someone else borrow money and give it to you and then let them keep money that would have been yours so they can pay off their debt and so you can look (at least on paper) like you have less debt too. Sounds as stupid and conflicted as the idiot democrats who run Trenton. The only people who get anything out of that are the greedy vultures on Wall Street that pick at NJ's carcass. Typical Cor$ine.

Posted by: scubadude on Fri Dec 22, 2006 2:33 pm

© 2006 Asbury Park Press:


Pennsylvania politicians seek quick cash; hope to privatize the Turnpike

Australian, Spanish companies offer U.S. state help in leasing toll road

December 22, 2006

The Associated Press
Copyright 2006

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: More than 40 companies, including some from Australia and Spain, met Friday's deadline to offer their help to state policymakers who want to determine the value of leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike, officials said.

Among the parties expressing interest were Spanish highway and infrastructure company Abertis Infraestructuras, Texas-based construction manager Fluor Corp., and Australian toll road developer Transurban Group., as well as investment banks, private equity firms and major auditing firms.

The deadline came two weeks after Gov. Ed Rendell announced plans to solicit interest. The companies were asked to submit a document of no more than eight pages that would introduce their firm, relevant experience and expertise that the state may need on such a transaction.

"The instructions we sent out to the world were, 'Tell us what kind of help we need,'" said Rich Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

Once the submissions are reviewed, the state plans to invite some firms to make presentations that would address issues such as estimating the value of privatizing the 537-mile (864-kilometer) highway network. The state could eventually pay the firms as consultants on the transaction.

However, Kirkpatrick said the state has no timetable for when it will take the next step. He also said he was uncertain whether the submissions were public record, and said he could not release them because the state has not reviewed them yet.

The idea of leasing the turnpike surfaced earlier this year as a way to get a huge influx of money to solve the state's problems of crumbling highways and bridges and struggling mass transit agencies. Rendell has cited a study that showed Pennsylvania could garner anywhere from $2 billion to $30 billion (€1.52 billion to €22.74 billion) from privatizing the turnpike.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission also responded, although a spokesman did not know what was in the commission's filing and could not immediately provide a copy.

"All I can say about it is that we made a submission outlining our recommendation on how we can help close the gap that exists in highway funding and mass transit funding that exists in the state," spokesman Carl DeFebo said.

Such a transaction with a private company can work in various ways. Generally, a private investor would pay the state to assume control of a highway, then recoup the cost of the upfront payment, plus interest, by raising tolls or usage fees over the life of the agreement.

© 2006 The Associated Press:


Thursday, December 21, 2006

"The level of mistrust among key players in the CAMPO organization is staggering."

Watson calls for delay in toll vote

Senator-elect's suggestion comes as chamber issues report calling for CAMPO changes.

December 21, 2006

By Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Kirk Watson, soon to be a state senator and a member of a board that guides Central Texas transportation decisions, wants that board to delay for six months a decision on the area's second wave of toll roads.

Watson, an Austin Democrat succeeding longtime state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos in January, will be one of eight new or nearly new members of the 23-member Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board. Given that influx of inexperience, as well as a recent report indicating that increasing the state gas tax with inflation could eliminate the need for tolls on some roads, Watson said that CAMPO needs to step back.

And, as it considers further action on toll roads in general, Watson said, the CAMPO board needs to make sure "the people of Central Texas are treated like valued constituents, not just resources to be harvested."

Watson's recommendation, shared in a Wednesday e-mail with CAMPO board members, comes as a Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce task force prepares to issue a report today calling for major changes to CAMPO. Watson was chairman of that task force.

The 58-page report says the "level of mistrust among key players in the CAMPO organization is staggering" and recommends trimming the board to 18 members. That reconfigured board would have just three legislators instead of 10 and would include two new members representing small cities. Changing the board would require the governments in the three-county CAMPO area to amend their agreement.

"I think a smaller board is a good thing because it's become unwieldy," said state Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Williamson County, a CAMPO board member and the chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "And some members clearly have not been interested in actively participating."

The report also recommends several mechanisms for easing factional divisions between urban and suburban board members and building trust between the board and CAMPO staff members.

"These changes hopefully will bring about a functioning body," Watson said Wednesday. "The truth of the matter is, if CAMPO is doing its job well, people aren't going to notice it."

CAMPO has been quite noticeable the past 30 months or so.

Under federal law, federal transportation funds can't be used on a project unless that project is in CAMPO's long-range transportation plan. That plan sets out which projects will be done over the next 25 years and how to pay for them.

The toll road issue flared to life in Central Texas in the summer of 2004, when the CAMPO board, with just a couple of months' notice, voted 16-7 to allow seven key roads in Austin to be built or expanded as toll roads.

That was to come on top of a first wave of five toll roads already under construction or planned. The CAMPO board later sliced two tollways from what became known as the Phase 2 toll road plan.

Because of delay and a technicality in the federal planning process, the toll road issue is once again before the CAMPO board, which is no longer as enthusiastic about tollways.

Funding for the five projects on U.S. 183, U.S. 290 and Texas 71 in East Austin and the U.S. 290-Texas 71 confluence and Texas 45 Southwest in Southwest Austin has expired since that 2004 decision. The board has already delayed for months reinstating funding for those projects.

That vote had been expected to occur as soon as February.

Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, a CAMPO board member, said he's ready to follow Watson's lead on tolls.

"The only person who can probably lead us out of this morass we're in probably is Kirk, because he hasn't been a part of it to date," said Daugherty, a Republican. "There is no question we can't be expected to weigh in on this thing right away."; 445-3698

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: www.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

$70 million video enforcement system is part of toll road overhead costs

TxDOT ready to catch toll violators

December 19, 2006

Copyright 2006

Austin toll roads will start charging drivers on January 6, and a $70 million video enforcement system is now in place, ready to catch people trying to slip through toll booths without paying.

Video cameras will send images of violators' license plates to a computer system to be processed. People who run tolls will be sent violation notices.

"Get a tag, get a tag or pay through the cash lanes, because we will be able to tell violators when they come through," said Rutina Bush, Texas Department of Transportation Service Center.

On average, about 100,000 vehicles travel on local tollways each day. It's estimated that 10 percent of drivers will run the toll booths.

That's a misdemeanor charge with a fine up to $250.

© 2006 KVUE:


Monday, December 18, 2006

Krusee: "I'm going to stop calling these things toll roads. From now on, they're 'time machines.' "

Tollways: Candy, or lump of coal?

December 18, 2006

Ben Wear
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2006

Getting There has been seized by the holiday spirit and today offers you the news equivalent of stocking stuffers.

•Although the new toll roads undoubtedly are getting a lot of people a lot of places faster, sometimes that amounts to the transportation equivalent of "hurry up and wait."

In one of those unintended consequences you're always hearing about, the opening of flyover bridges from Texas 45 North to northbound Interstate 35 has created a huge evening rush hour snarl on the interstate in Round Rock. Drivers from east and west go up two-lane bridges, merge and then find themselves funneled to just one lane entering I-35.

The backups, we're told by people who travel that way every day, have been long and consistent since the tollways opened. Now the really bad news: Highway officials say there's nothing they can do about it anytime soon. To widen I-35 at that spot to add another entrance lane would be ruinously expensive, situated as it is in the middle of intense Round Rock development.

One sliver of hope: The advent of toll charges Jan. 6 might lighten up toll traffic enough to ease the backup. Maybe.

•Tollway spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said that as of Wednesday, the agency had issued almost 71,000 TxTags to people in Central Texas. Those drivers will be able to go through tolling stations without slowing down and will pay 10 percent less than cash customers.

And the more tagholders there are, the shorter the lines will be at the toll booths for the cash customers.

•Ho-hum, another 14 miles of highway open. In contrast to the big hoop-de-doo when the first 27 miles of tollway opened in late October — several hundred folks showed up under a huge tent erected on Texas 45 North, and there was copious speechifying — this time, there was simply a lonely wooden podium in the southbound lanes of Texas 130 north of Georgetown, facing about 50 folding chairs.

State Rep. Mike Krusee, the Williamson County Republican who chairs the House Transportation Committee and has pushed toll roads as a solution to our snarled highways, was among the handful of speakers. He talked about how the tollways that already opened, particularly the spacious Texas 45 North east-west artery, are so fast he has found himself allotting way more time to get places than turns out to be necessary.

"I'm going to stop calling these things toll roads," Krusee said. "From now on, they're 'time machines.' "

•Krusee, by the way, e-mailed this week after I ran an item about a 2005 transportation bill he sponsored. I had discovered language in there, now a part of state law, saying that during a legislative session lawmakers can skip a meeting of a "policy board" (like the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) and not be counted absent.

Krusee, who serves on CAMPO, said the short item by inference incorrectly laid this at his door. Actually, this language was added in a Senate committee, perpetrator unknown.

Krusee, like most of the Legislature, voted yes on the final product.

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

© 2006 Austin American-Statesman: www.