Monday, March 12, 2007

Highlights of state auditor's scathing report on TxDOT's toll road projects

Audit focuses on dollars and sense

March 12, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Emotions tend to punctuate the Texas toll-road debate.

But put them aside momentarily, and focus instead on a rather scathing report issued late last month by the state auditor's office. The audit doesn't argue whether toll roads are a double taxation, land grab or corporate profit trough.

Instead, it examines the Texas Department of Transportation's own paperwork to focus on the dollars and sense of toll-road projects -- especially the plan to build the Trans-Texas Corridor.

So far, the department has only paid Cintra Zachry about $3.5 million to come up with a master development plan. But that document sets the foundation for future decisions involving billions of dollars -- so it's in auditors' crosshairs.

The audit carried a lot of weight last month during a Senate transportation committee hearing.

  • Although the Transportation Department could receive $3 billion in concession payments from Cintra Zachry, the department could lose some or all of that money if factors such as inflation and interest rates increase the developers' costs.
  • The public's share of the cost could be $13.6 billion. The auditor identified total costs of $105.6 billion.
  • Because of a lack of reliable information, auditors can't determine toll-road construction costs, operating expenses, revenue and developer income.
  • Although the department has said that little public money would be used to build Trans-Texas, Cintra Zachry proposes to apply for $3.9 billion in federal taxpayer-backed transportation infrastructure loan funds.
  • The department kept financial information about its deal with Cintra Zachry secret for 18 months and filed a lawsuit protesting an attorney general's ruling that the records should be open.

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