Tuesday, April 10, 2007

"This is looking before we leap into contracts that that last 50-plus years. You never sell a producing well and I think that's what we're doing."

House proposal would put 2-year moratorium on private toll roads

April 10, 2007

The Associated Press
Copyright 2007

AUSTIN — A two-year moratorium on private toll roads that won preliminary approval in the House on Tuesday would put the brakes on the Trans-Texas Corridor, a superhighway that a private firm received a contract for earlier this year.

The moratorium also would halt seven near-term projects in the state, said Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, the Brenham Republican who added the proposal to a House bill.

"This is us tapping the brakes, looking before we leap ... into contracts that last 50-plus years," Kolkhorst said.

Her proposal would require the state to create a commission to study the effects of private equity toll roads and present findings to the state next year.

Rep. Mike Krussee, R-Round Rock, argued that without private toll roads, the state would need to raise the gas tax to pay for roads.

"However well-intentioned, the moratorium adopted by the House would eliminate an enormous pool of non-tax money to address traffic and transportation needs," said Joe Krier, chairman of Texans for Safe Reliable Transportation. "Fewer transportation dollars mean fewer transportation alternatives, and more traffic gridlock."

The state contracted with Spanish-American consortium Cintra-Zachry to develop and maintain the Trans-Texas Corridor, which is envisioned as a $184 billion 4,000-mile network of toll roads, rail lines and utilities.

The contract spans 50 years.

"This is an issue about how Texas will build roads in the future and about whether profits paid by Texans will stay here in Texas ... or whether profits will be siphoned off to Spain, Wall Street or other areas."

In total, planned private equity toll projects are expected to earn $300 billion in profits for the private firms, Kolkhorst said.

"You never sell a producing well and I think that's what we're doing," she said, adding that those profits could be used in Texas to build more highway capacity.

Gov. Rick Perry, who has long championed the Trans-Texas Corridor, has urged the state to reject a two-year toll road moratorium.

"There are no such things as freeways," he said in a statement last week. "There are taxways and tollways, and for 50 years we have tried taxways that have been underfunded by Austin and Washington and that have left local communities choking on pollution and brimming with congestion."

The moratorium would not affect projects planned by regional mobility authorities.

© 2007 The Associated Press: www.ap.org

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