Texas Lege Failed Us On Toll Roads-But Democrats at the Federal Level May Reverse the Land Grab Somervell County Salon-Glen Rose, Rainbow, Nemo, Glass....Texas


Texas Lege Failed Us On Toll Roads-But Democrats at the Federal Level May Reverse the Land Grab

11 June 2007 at 11:37:05 AM

Last month, Jim Oberstar and Peter DeFazio of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure spoke out against the PPPs (Private-Public Partnerships) that are running rampant in this country, in this instance being used by states to outsource highways to toll-road entities. On June 4, they released a position paper, with governors at the state level as the intended audience. (Here's the link to the PDF of the position paper.) First point right out of the box.

"Where private financing is involved, PPP's can supplement -but not provide a substitute for - public investments in transportation improvements "

Yes to that. Here in Texas, because the Lege caved in to Perry, didn't attempt to raise the gas tax, and smooched up to the PPPs, which includes Cintra, they are attempting to do the toll roads INSTEAD OF properly keeping up public highways.

The Recommendations, which begin on p2 include

States should not include "Non-compete" clauses in PPP concession agreements that limit state and local government's ability to meet the current and future mobility and safety needs of the traveling public.

In other words, as in Texas, the states must KEEP UP THE HIGHWAYS that might be running parallel or adjacent to the toll roads, so that people aren't forced between a choice of driving on crappy roads or paying for a toll road.

I also notice there's a provision against *Lexus Lanes*, the method on toll roads that has the toll rates raised automatically at rush hour, so as to keep them less congested.

Low-income drivers should be provided relief from high tolls charged for congestion pricing. The toll proceeds should be used to fund public transit and other highway alternatives for low-income individuals,in addition to maintenance of the facility and retirement of debt.

Oh, and can we as the public hear about these PPP's BEFORE THEY ARE RAMMED DOWN OUR THROATS????

States should enact enabling legislation that promotes timely distribution of relevant information to the public concerning proposed PPP projects and encourage open and full public participation throughout the review of the projects.

Unlike what happened this last summer when all the counties in the proposed route of the TTC stood up to tell off the TxDOT people... but it was AFTER the fact, and the TxDOT people knew it.

There's a lot of GREAT stuff in this PDF, including regulating toll roads, so as not to create MONOPOLIES. Mentions of what happens if the state actually repairs their roads and the toll road operators, in a snit, tell the state to cough up lost revenue (as per non-compete clauses). Oberstar and Defazio also recognize that these agreements give control to toll road operators for FOUR GENERATIONS.

And, oo, a little implied threat that if the states go ahead and keep doing what they're doing with PPPs, they might lose federal highway dollars (course you remember in Texas, we gave it BACK this last time-pfffftttt)

Unless appropriate planning and public interest protections are incorporated into the procedures of implementing PPPs, these transactions could stimulate and accelerate the devolution of the federal program to the states.

And, in fact, an article from today in an investment venue says just that, and seems to be warning investors with Goldman Sachs, Macquarie, etc, that the whole toll road scam may, gasp, actually become riskier once they HAVE TO LOOK OUT FOR THE PUBLIC.

The trucking industry and congressional Democrats are trying to put the brakes on state efforts to lease toll roads to Macquarie Bank Ltd., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and other private investors.

Urged on by truckers such as U.S. Xpress Enterprises Ltd., House Democrats are considering withholding highway funds from states whose leases with companies fail to meet proposed federal standards. Critics of leasing say private investors are more likely to raise tolls than government authorities are. Private investors would also find it easier to fire toll collectors and other employees.

New federal restrictions could make investments in the $1.7 trillion of public roadways less attractive to private interests. And the mere fact of congressional attention might have a chilling effect on such deals, says Mike McDermott, an analyst who works on toll-road transactions in the New York office of Fitch Ratings Ltd., which rates debt used to finance infrastructure.

``Those kinds of public debates would make politicians at the state level more cautious,'' he says.


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