Friday, August 31, 2007

"Capka needs to start by looking at those federal rules that he accuses Texas of violating. They need updating."


Everybody back to work

Aug. 31, 2007

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

Federal Highway Administrator J. Richard Capka , is steaming mad about the way that Texas officials have handled the contract to build a toll road on Texas 121 in Denton and Collin counties. He has fired off a letter to the Texas Department of Transportation stating just how angry he is.

OK. Capka can get mad if he wants.

The North Texas Tollway Authority was allowed, under a new state law, to enter the Texas 121 bidding process late and was selected as the winning bidder over the Spanish company Cintra. A final contract is still in the works.

Capka said in his letter that federal officials will "closely monitor and evaluate" the bidding process for similar Texas projects in the future. And if they find anything wrong, they're going to impose "far-reaching compliance measures." Again, OK.

Capka did not say that federal authorities would block construction of the 121 toll road or even require that the project be re-bid. In fact, he said that federal funds already committed to other projects on the same highway are not in jeopardy.

Even better. Now let's all get back to work.

Capka needs to start by looking at those federal rules that he accuses Texas of violating. They need updating.

First, he cites federal law requiring "a fair and open competitive process" in project bidding. He's got a good point there, because the details of Cintra's bid were known when state legislators stepped in and re-opened the bid process for NTTA.

But the key to that is in Capka's second complaint: He noted that "federal regulations specifically prohibit a public entity [like NTTA] from bidding directly against a private entity [like Cintra]."

Highways get built in two ways: with tax money or with toll money. Top officials in Austin and Washington seem dead set against raising gasoline taxes so that more roads can be built with that money. That only leaves toll money.

Where public toll authorities like NTTA exist, it does not make sense to shut them out and only let private companies like Cintra bid on plum projects. That would saddle the NTTAs of this world with only those contracts that don't yield enough profit for the Cintras.

Capka should turn his attention to rewriting that rule.