Monday, February 25, 2008

Sen. John Carona pushes 'managed lanes' (toll roads operated by foreign consortiums) on I-635

More room on the road

Managed lanes project on I-635 is critical to North Texas

February 25, 2008

State Senator John Carona (R)
The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

Nothing brings home the phrase "time is money" more than having to sit in traffic. Drivers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area spent 150 million hours stuck in traffic in 2005 – costing $2.7 billion in lost time and wasted fuel. That's time and money we won't get back, and Dallasites understand this better than just about anyone in the country.

The fact is that the Metroplex is one of the most traffic-congested regions in the nation. In 2005, the annual traffic delay for every peak-time driver here was 58 hours, a seven-hour increase from 2004 and an astonishing 24-hour jump from just 10 years earlier. The reason for these traffic bottlenecks and congestion is that Texas' spending on transportation has been unable to keep pace with population growth and economic progress. Put simply, supply is not keeping up with demand. In May 2006, the state's transportation agency noted that Texas' population grew by 57 percent in the preceding 25 years, while road usage increased 95 percent. During the same period, state road capacity grew only 8 percent.

The challenge has been finding the money to address the lack of road capacity and give relief to commuters. During the same 25-year period, as Congress transferred $7 billion in Texas-paid gasoline tax to other states, Texas began diverting more than $10 billion in state transportation funds to other uses, and inflation eroded the purchasing power of the remains.

A recently discovered accounting error at the Texas Department of Transportation has placed us even further behind in getting the projects we need on the ground.

My legislative goals include constitutionally ending or reducing diversion, completing the issuance of already authorized debt, increasing and indexing the motor fuels tax, and implementing other programs to stretch the dollars we have. In the meantime, we must rely to an extent on privatization, toll roads and innovation to fill the gap.

Thus, the groundbreaking nature of a critically important effort known as the I-635 Managed Lanes Project.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute's Chris Poe, managed lanes are a set of lanes where operational strategies are proactively implemented and managed in response to changing conditions, with the goals of achieving safe, fast, reliable trips for users of the managed lane and providing all users with real travel choices.

The I-635 Managed Lanes Project involves the complete reconstruction of the LBJ Freeway between I-35E and North Central Expressway to feature the latest in highway design and provide welcome relief, as well as improve I-35E between LBJ Freeway and Loop 12.

It is so important that we specifically exempted it from a two-year moratorium on other toll contracts, and it is moving forward as a comprehensive development agreement under the Texas Department of Transportation in cooperation with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the North Texas Tollway Authority, Dallas County and the cities of Dallas, Farmers Branch, Garland and Mesquite.

The state has pre-qualified two consortia for this project, and final bids are expected by the end of April. Both partnerships involve large international companies, which raises an important point. Some have suggested that in other projects state assets are being turned over to foreigners, which is not the case.

Our challenge – one I believe we are meeting through current statute and efforts such as the Legislative Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects – is to keep costs low through the free-market system while ensuring the necessary protections.

The bottom line: It is imperative that we tackle our infrastructure needs for the sake of taxpayers and drivers who depend on well-built, safe roadways. Excessive traffic congestion hurts job creation, air quality, public safety and quality of life.

We all have more important places to be than stuck in traffic, and work such as the I-635 improvement project will help us get to those important places a bit faster and safer.

John Carona represents District 16 in the Texas Senate and chairs the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security and the Legislative Study Committee on Private Participation in Toll Projects. His e-mail address is

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