Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sen. Ogden admits he was "asleep or not smart enough" to recognize potential problems.

Spanish company wins North Texas toll road contract

Feb. 27, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

MCKINNEY, Texas — A Spanish transportation company contracted to build Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor won a critical recommendation Tuesday to turn state Highway 121 into a toll road through Collin and Denton counties.

Officials from the Texas Department of Transportation plan to recommend Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte as the developer of the toll road during a Wednesday meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission.

If the commission approves the deal, Cintra will pay $2.8 billion to the Regional Transportation Council, a North Texas group responsible for transportation planning in the region. In exchange, Cintra will operate and collect tolls on the highway for the next 50 years.

Collin County officials hailed the deal as one solution to its traffic problems.

"At a time when budgets are stretched thin to meet every transportation need in North Texas, this project can be a valuable source of income to help us pay for other projects needed in this county," Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.

But some state lawmakers are starting to get frustrated with the state's pursuit of privately financed toll roads and wonder about the ultimate cost.

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, said the Cintra deal includes provisions that bar the state from building its own roads in the area during the 50-year contract. That puts the state in a financial bind if it wants to build roads to help a growing population.

"The advantage is roads will be built sooner," Carona said. "What you won't hear about is toll rates will be raised unlike anything we have seen today."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, who pushed the 2003 bill that helped set up the toll road initiative, said he was "asleep or not smart enough" to recognize potential problems.

"We are giving away a public asset and don't have much say about it for 50 years," said Ogden, R-Bryan.

Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-American consortium, plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, a state-owned toll road. The consortium, made up of Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, would get to operate the road and collect tolls.

© 2007 The Associated Press: www.ap.org

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