Firm Advises Cintra in First Privatization of Toll Road in Texas

DALLAS (March 1, 2007) Bracewell & Giuliani LLP advised Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., a Spanish transportation company, in its successful bid to develop State Highway 121 into a toll road through Collin and Denton counties. The award to Cintra, approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, is the first privatization of a Texas toll road.

Bracewell is acting as project counsel to Cintra with respect to the 50-year concession from the Texas Department of Transportation. Cintra will pay a $2.1 billion upfront and annual lease payments totaling $700 million.

“Cintra was awarded this project because of its proven expertise and competitive proposal,” said Thomas O. Moore, partner with Bracewell & Giuliani. “This is the largest transportation deal of 2007. This is one of only five deals in the country.”

Three firms have competed for the Comprehensive Development Agreement for State Highway 121 since last summer. The proposals were reviewed and scored based on selection criteria set forth by the Regional Transportation Council, the metropolitan planning agency for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

This CDA is a public-private partnership that allows the provider to handle all facets of developing the toll road, including completing construction and operating and maintaining the corridor.

Cintra, a subsidiary of Grupo Ferrovial specialized in toll roads and car parks, is one of the world’s leading private-sector developers of transport infrastructure.

Bracewell & Giuliani attorneys that advised on this matter include:

Partners: Thomas O. Moore, Roger D. Aksamit, Kevin A, Ewing, George Y. Gonzalez, Jason B. Hutt, Nancy Jo Nelson, Andrew M. Taylor and Jose Luis Vittor.

Associates: Todd G. Amdor, Eamonn K. Bakewell, Patrick A. Caballero, Erik E. Petersen, Lisa A. Smith and Trevor Wommack.

Sen. Ogden, new ally! Former toller desires to right “past sins” that unleased this monster!

Link to article here.

Finance chairman warns of political force against reform
By Laylan Copelin
Austin American Statesman
February 27, 2007

Fearing that state officials lack the collective will to act, the Senate Finance Committee chairman said this morning that three state agencies must be reined in despite the embarrassment it may cause.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, cited the Texas Department of Transportation, the Texas Youth Commission and Texas Southern University as severe problems that he fear will be swept under the Capitol rug.

“Two of them are broken,” he said. “And one is out of control.”

In an interview with the American-Statesman, Ogden warned that political forces were trying to keep lawmakers from dealing with the issues to avoid embarrassing the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry.

He said he was speaking out to put a spotlight on the problems of fiscal mismanagement at Texas Southern University in Houston, sexual abuse allegations at a Texas Youth Commission facility and the transportation department’s negotiations with private developers to build and toll a system of roads.

“There’s a huge political force out there saying, ‘We don’t care or this is too embarrassing,” Ogden said. “What keeps the Legislature from hiding from problems, you have to shine a spotlight on it.”

He urged reporters to pay greater attention to the three issues and pledged to use the appropriations process to make changes.

“If I was king, TYC and Texas Southern would be in conservatorship — that means fire everybody and start over,” Ogden said. He predicted there would be more resignations at TYC — the executive director quit last week — and said he believes there is evidence of a cover-up at the agency.

The allegations of sex abuse at a TYC facility in West Texas are “as bad as it gets,” the senator said. “Isn’t this what the lieutenant governor it talking about giving the death penalty for?”

The powerful senator said the transportation department has “too many tools in their arsenal” to construct highways and the Legislature should take some of them back.

Ogden said he is concerned about the department’s plans to allow private contractors, for a large upfront fee, to build roads and charge tolls — perhaps forever. He said the department has as many as 21 projects under consideration.

“Do we really want to be turning over state highways to private contractors?” Ogden said.

The irony is that Ogden was the Senate author of the bill that in 2003 expanded the commission’s powers to construct roads.

“I’m trying to correct the sins of the past,” Ogden said.

He is considering legislation that would force the tolls to go away once a highway is paid for. He said he is concerned with plans to use toll revenue, long after a highway is paid for, to build more roads.

He said the Legislature is hearing from constituents who want the agency’s powers curbed.

“Every (legislative) member is paying a political price for what they are doing,” Ogden said. “TxDOT needs to be more sensitive and accountable to the Legislature.”

The executive director of the Texas Youth Commission resigned last week after internal review found that agency officials had ignored, for more than a year, staff complaints that administrators at a West Texas State School had molested young inmates.

Texas Southern University is asking for $25 million in emergency appropriations because of fiscal mismanagement, including hundreds of thousands of dollars inappropriately spent on the president’s house while the basements of classroom buildings are flooded and the athletic department has overspent its budget by $2 million.

The transportation department has steered the state into controversy with plans to execute the governor’s plans for the Trans Texas Corridor by negotiating agreements with private developers to build the roads and charge tolls.

Cintra winning bidder on Hwy 121 in Dallas…to collect tolls on EXISTING highway with no LIMIT on tol

Note how the reporter buries the FACT that 121 was already built with gas tax dollars and has now been hawked by Perry’s little council to the highest bidder…no surprise that it’s Cintra. This is DOUBLE TAXATION and Senator Carona notes it does include a non-compete clause prohibiting the government from expanding or improving any surrounding roads (for 50 years) that would “compete” with Cintra’s precious toll revenue. These sweetheart deals negotiated in SECRET outside the pubic purview will cost the taxpayers $100 BILLION over the next 50 years. (See article below where it estimates that’s the figure Cintra will make off our PUBLIC assets).
 

Tax and spend Republicans under Rick Perry’s spell crow about the $5 billion deal that gives them more play money to build roads….how is this a good deal when the taxpayers will be fleeced for $100 billion in the long run for a road they’ve already built and paid for with gas taxes??? Is it any wonder the arrogance of the Governor-appointed Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson when his boss talks like this? “‘It seems to me it’s working as advertised,’ Perry said. ‘It seems to me the power has devolved away from Austin to the local officials you see behind me. If the folks in Austin want to take away the power of the RTC (Regional Transportation Council), I will let them have that fight with y’all.’”

Link to article here and here.

Private firm to operate Hwy. 121 toll road for 50 years
By GORDON DICKSON
Star-Telegram Staff Writer

ARLINGTON — The Spanish firm Cintra has been selected to build and manage the Texas 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties, in a $5 billion, 50-year deal that includes payment of $2.8 billion into North Texas coffers for other highway work.

Cintra is also the majority partner in Cintra Zachry, which is planning the controversial Trans-Texas Corridor.

Cintra operates toll roads and parking areas worldwide, and often uses private investment funds to make large, up-front payments to public agencies in exchange for the right to collect tolls for many years.

Metroplex officials on Tuesday stood side-by-side with Gov. Rick Perry, who visited the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Arlington office to announce the plan.

“I think we can boil it down to five words,” said Michael Morris, council of governments transportation director. “Austin: We have a solution.”

Under Perry’s administration, decisions about where to spend much of the state’s highway funding have been transferred to a group of 40 mostly elected leaders known as the Regional Transportation Council. Those regional leaders backed the concept of using private funds to build and manage roads, to make up for a lack of tax-supported highway funds.

“It seems to me it’s working as advertised,” Perry said. “It seems to me the power has devolved away from Austin to the local officials you see behind me. If the folks in Austin want to take away the power of the RTC, I will let them have that fight with y’all.”

If, as expected, the selection by the Texas Department of Transportation’s Dallas district office is approved by the Texas Transportation Commission on Wednesday, Cintra will collect tolls on Texas 121 from Lewisville to McKinney for 50 years. The deal is also contingent upon completion of an environmental study.

The total value of Cintra’s bid is just over $5 billion, TxDot Dallas engineer Bill Hale said.

It includes:

 

• $2.1 billion up-front for regional leaders to spend as they see fit.

 

• $716 million paid in annual installments over 49 year, also for regional needs.

 

• $560 million to extend Texas 121 main lanes in Collin County.

 

• $1.7 billion to maintain and rehabilitate the road over 50 years, including any future lane additions.

 

Tarrant County will likely receive several hundred million dollars in benefit, which will help ensure that Interstate 35W, Loop 820, Airport Freeway and the Grapevine Funnel are improved, North Richland Hills Mayor Oscar Trevino said. However, the bulk of the funding will go toward projects closer to Texas 121, including improvements to Interstate 35E.

 

No additional public dollars will be used on the Texas 121 project. However, public money was already used to build the Texas 121 frontage roads in Denton and Collin counties, and main lanes in Denton County.

 

Spanish company wins North Texas toll road contract
Houston Chronicle/Associated Press
Feb 27, 2007

 

MCKINNEY, Texas — A Spanish transportation company contracted to build Gov. Rick Perry’s Trans-Texas Corridor won a critical recommendation Tuesday to turn state Highway 121 into a toll road through Collin and Denton counties.

 

Officials from the Texas Department of Transportation plan to recommend Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte as the developer of the toll road during a Wednesday meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission.

If the commission approves the deal, Cintra will pay $2.8 billion to the Regional Transportation Council, a North Texas group responsible for transportation planning in the region. In exchange, Cintra will operate and collect tolls on the highway for the next 50 years.

Collin County officials hailed the deal as one solution to its traffic problems.

 

“At a time when budgets are stretched thin to meet every transportation need in North Texas, this project can be a valuable source of income to help us pay for other projects needed in this county,” Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes said.

 

But some state lawmakers are starting to get frustrated with the state’s pursuit of privately financed toll roads and wonder about the ultimate cost.

 

Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security, said the Cintra deal includes provisions that bar the state from building its own roads in the area during the 50-year contract. That puts the state in a financial bind if it wants to build roads to help a growing population.

 

“The advantage is roads will be built sooner,” Carona said. “What you won’t hear about is toll rates will be raised unlike anything we have seen today.”

 

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden, who pushed the 2003 bill that helped set up the toll road initiative, said he was “asleep or not smart enough” to recognize potential problems.

 

“We are giving away a public asset and don’t have much say about it for 50 years,” said Ogden, R-Bryan.

 

Cintra-Zachry, a Spanish-American consortium, plans to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, a state-owned toll road. The consortium, made up of Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction, would get to operate the road and collect tolls.

TX Observer: Road Kill…the build-up to Carona’s hearing

Link to article here.

Road Kill
by Eileen Welsome
Texas Observer
Feb. 27, 2007

Although the current Legislative session is only a few weeks old, Ric Williamson, the embattled chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission, has already incurred the wrath of numerous state lawmakers intent on curbing the Department of Transportation’s plans to pave the state with toll roads and a network of superhighways known as the Trans-Texas Corridor.

If recent incidents are harbingers, the road warriors at TXDOT will be forced to jettison their own aggressive agenda this session and focus on protecting the new powers they were handed just four years ago to radically alter the way roads are financed and built.

The showdown began a few weeks ago when Williamson, a friend of Gov. Rick Perry and an ex-legislator himself, failed to appear at a budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. One senator, pointing out that it’s customary for department heads to be present when their budgets are being considered, asked Mike Behrens, TXDOT’s executive director, where Williamson was. Behrens explained that Williamson’s schedule was too full, a remark that touched off an angry round of muttering. “Make sure he’s here on March 1st,” snapped one senator.

On March 1, the Lege will hold its first public hearing ever on the Trans-Texas Corridor and the plethora of privately operated toll roads being planned for the state. TXDOT has spent millions of dollars on advertising and consultants trying to convince the public that the best solution for Texas’ massive traffic jams is allowing private investors to build toll roads. But its public relations campaign has backfired, managing to enrage not only large segments of the driving public, but also state legislators, congressmen, and scores of local officials who sit on city councils, county commissions, and transportation councils. The chickens, as Malcolm X once said, have come home to roost.

Nearly a dozen bills have been introduced to rein in TXDOT’s plans, and more are expected. Leading the effort is Republican John Carona, a Dallas businessman and chairman of the Senate’s Transportation and Homeland Security Committee. Said Carona, “The Transportation Commission and the governor’s office are so focused on short-term cures that they have not studied the long-term ramifications of what they’re doing. And I think the long-term ramifications are disastrous for this state.”

Carona has filed several bills that would severely curtail the profits that toll-road operators can make on their pay-as-you-go highways.

Under one measure, tolls could only be raised to cover the cost of repairs and maintenance. A second would ban noncompete clauses that basically prohibit TXDOT from building free roads that might reduce traffic on the tolled highways. A third would forbid TXDOT from signing contracts for more than 30 years. (Currently the department has signed deals for 50 to 70 years and wants to enter into contracts that could stretch into the next century.)

A week after his no-show before the Senate committee, Williamson did appear in front of the much friendlier House Transportation Committee. (Under the direction of the current chairman, Round Rock Republican Mike Krusee, that committee hammered out the mammoth transportation legislation in 2003 that spawned the current toll-road binge.) While Williamson was testifying before Krusee’s committee, Carona walked up onto the dais and took the seat of a member who had just left the room.

Carona listened patiently for a while. Then Krusee asked the senator if he had a question. Carona glared down at Williamson and said, “I’ve been trying to get an appointment with this gentleman, and I understand his calendar is booked up through March. I’m just wondering if I could ask you, Chairman Williamson, if we can meet this week on important transportation issues?”

Williamson, who has a boxer’s thick neck and a military-style buzz cut, gazed at Carona in disbelief. His face reddened. “You are a clever guy,” he finally stuttered.

Carona pushed on: “I think you and I recognize we have a difference of opinion. But we might find we have more in common than we realize. I’d be grateful for the meeting. And I know my colleagues in the Senate would, too.”

Williamson told Carona that he’d call him, but emphasized that he couldn’t commit to a meeting. Then Carona exploded: “You say you have one boss that you work for, but you really don’t. You’ve got the people of the state and 181 members of the Legislature. This kind of lack of commitment and artful dodging has created the hostility and friction that exists right now. The fact that you would sit there and be so arrogant as to not meet with me is very troubling.”

Williamson sunk into a stony silence. Carona pressed him again for a meeting. Williamson finally said, “I’m speechless.”

“Thank you,” responded Carona, who then got up and left the room.

Another senator gunning for TXDOT is Steve Ogden, a tall, angular Republican from Bryan Station who chairs the Senate Finance Committee. With his thick accent and white hair, Ogden seems like a good ole boy who’s got nothing more on his mind than the Friday night football game. But the U.S. Naval Academy graduate spent nine years as an officer in the nuclear submarine force. He knows how to operate in tight quarters and keep his feelings tamped down.

But when the subject of TXDOT comes up, Ogden can hardly restrain himself, in part because it was Ogden who encouraged his Senate colleagues to pass the massive transportation bill that freed TXDOT from the old rules and soon had the department’s stodgy road builders lunching with Wall Street financiers.

Ogden now feels he was duped, and said as much at the Senate Finance Committee hearing. The 2003 transportation bill arrived in the Senate two weeks before the session ended, Ogden recalled, and was sold as a way to get roads built quickly without any public money. (In reality, the toll roads that will be operated by private companies will still be subsidized by taxpayers through tax breaks, low-interest loans, tax-exempt bonds, outright grants and in some cases, the actual pavement itself.)

In 2003, there also was no talk of privatizing the roads, he added. “The fact that it wasn’t brought up and we never got an opportunity to chew on it has created a huge political problem for us.”

Ogden glared at the cluster of TXDOT operatives. In another time, he might have ordered them to walk the plank or had them lashed to the sails. As it was, the only punishment he had available was a tongue lashing. “It’s not what TXDOT tells you. It’s what they don’t tell you,” he complained. He chided the department for its sneakiness and encouraged its bureaucrats to be more open about what they’re doing. “Running your own plays and hiding them from us is no way to run state business.”

TXDOT’s not saying anything publicly about the frontal assaults. (“I never comment on what legislators do,” Williamson said of Corona’s ambush.) But it’s safe to say that they’re not happy. Just a few months ago, the department rolled out its own legislative wish list. High on the list was getting a revenue stream for the Texas Rail Relocation Fund so the state and its private partners can build several new billion-dollar-plus railroad projects, which one industry insider collectively referred to as a “huge fat pig.”

But TXDOT will have its hands full fending off Carona, Ogden, and a raft of Democratic legislators aiming to take down the imperious department and its autocratic commissioners. Joe Pickett, a Democratic representative from El Paso who once was virtually the only legislator willing to speak out against the behemoth department, welcomes the backup. “The whole agency needs a complete work-over from top to bottom,” he said.

Pickett has introduced a measure that would replace Perry’s five-member Transportation Commission with an elected transportation czar. State Rep. David Leibowitz, a Democrat from San Antonio, has drawn up a bill that would do away with Perry’s coveted Trans-Texas Corridor, a network of superhighways that will stretch from the Mexican border toward Canada. The TTC is being sold to Texans as a way to reduce congestion, but in reality appears to be a system of trade routes designed to circumvent the glutted West Coast ports and get foreign goods into the United States by way of Mexico. A third Democratic state representative, Houston’s Garnet Coleman, is sponsoring legislation that would place a two-year moratorium on the further construction of toll roads. (Coleman is fuming over TXDOT’s plan to replace the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on some Houston freeways with toll lanes, which he calls “Lexus lanes.”)

Meanwhile, Carona, a bespectacled and mild-looking businessman, is quickly gaining rock-star status on the Internet, and recently was featured on YouTube. Carona, who has the ability to speak in paragraphs and can read spreadsheets with ease, has been projecting the numbers into the future and sees a day when the state’s free roads will be potted and pitted, the billions in up-front concession fees will be spent, and Texas motorists will still be forking out millions of dollars in tolls to foreign corporations and bankers. “This is the most reckless transportation policy this state has seen in its history,” he said.

He continued, “While the Transportation Commissions likes to tell you that all transportation issues have now been decentralized and now reside in local communities, in fact that’s not the case. TXDOT allows local decisions as long as those local decisions agree with the philosophy and direction of the Transportation Commission. If local decisions made through local transportation authorities differ from what the commissioners would like to see, they simply withhold funds. They leverage the outcome by controlling the purse strings in Austin. You see that in issues like toll equity where the Transportation Commission determines what portion of money it will make available to subsidize a road project in a region. Virtually every major roadway under consideration today in Texas is being advanced as a toll project.”

The toll-road developers, Carona said, have claimed that they will need a 12 percent return on their investment. Using that figure, Carona calculates the tolls on the private roads will be 66 percent higher upon opening than what tolls on state-constructed roads would cost. What’s more, he said, the private toll operators will be able to raise their rates to whatever the market will bear. By contrast, toll hikes on state-owned roads are limited to recovering the cost of maintenance and repairs. “The reality is, we’re building roads in the most expensive fashion of all—through tolls—instead of calling it taxes,” he said.

Carona favors raising the gasoline tax so that it keeps pace with inflation. (The tax has been unchanged for the last 15 years—20 cents for the state and 18.4 cents for the feds per gallon.) That way, the state would have enough money to build all the roads it’s going to need over the next 25 years. The average motorist would probably wind up paying an extra dollar per month for fuel, but Carona said in the long run it’ll be cheaper for drivers.

Even with an increase in gasoline taxes, it’s unlikely that toll roads, and perhaps even the loathed Trans-Texas Corridor, will vanish from the map. Carona is confident, however, that the Legislature will be able to enact some meaningful reforms in the coming weeks. “We’re at a crossroads in transportation policy,” he said. “We can either get it right or get it wrong.”

Macquarie salivates over $250 BILLION in Texas toll roads

It’s one thing to build and maintain roads, it’s another to engage in sweetheart deals that enrich private corporations while infinitely sticking it to the taxpayers who own the aforementioned assets. TxDOT is clearly no longer about building and maintaining roads and facilitating getting people from Point A to Point B as quickly and safely as possible. Now they’re about how to hawk our public assets for quick cash while selling us into toll tax slavery to foreign companies who couldn’t care less about Americans, the American economy, or American quality of life.
 

There are abundant examples of how these deals fail the taxpayers and end up with toll rates causing more than a little pain and tax revolts wherever they’re tried.

Link to article here.

MIG awaits green light to take its toll on Texan roads
By David Nason
New York correspondent
The Australian
February 27, 2007

 

THE Sydney-based Macquarie Infrastructure Group will know tonight if it has garnered an early slice of the vast toll road riches up for grabs in Texas.

 

The announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation of the winning bidder for State Highway 121 - a planned 42km toll road in northern Dallas, one of the fastest growing areas of the US - shapes up as the first big test of MIG’s decision to all but jettison its Australian routes for a shot at the far larger but less developed US markets.

 

Texas, which is forecast to double its population to 50 million by 2030, is regarded as the toll road El Dorado, with the SH121 project the first in an estimated $US250 billion ($315 billion) worth of roadwork and toll road administration to be privatised in the Lone Star state over the next decade.

 

The biggest prize is expected to be the new Trans-Texas Corrider, a toll road that would stretch from the Mexican border to Oklahoma and utilise some existing freeways and toll roads.

 

An MIG-led consortium is one of five shortlisted bidders for the rights to build and operate the toll road for 50 years. The deal is expected to net Texas an upfront payment of about $US2 billion and a share of toll revenues.

 

Like many states, Texas is reluctant to raise taxes to address its chronic shortfall in transportation infrastructure and has been forced to go to the private sector.

 

All up, more than 20 states are considering the sale or lease of major highways. They include Oregon, Indiana, California, Utah, Colorado, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.

 

But opposition to public-private partnerships, also known as PPPs, can be strong, especially in the case of public assets that are debt-free.

 

In New Jersey overnight the state legislature’s transportation committee was due to debate proposed legislation that would require voters to approve the sale or lease of any state asset worth more than $US100 million.

 

The legislation would also ban foreign companies from any involvement.

 

MIG has expressed interest in the state’s busy New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway which could earn the state $US15 billion for a 75-year lease.

 

At last year’s Merrill Lynch’s Australian Investment Conference in New York, MIG chief executive Stephen Allen warned that US-based competitors would exploit xenophobia to keep foreign companies from lucrative US toll-road opportunities.

 

“It is a real issue and it’s one we need to deal with,” Mr Allen said at the time.

 

“The market here is going to get more competitive. All the major investment banks are all starting infrastructure funds. In the marketing, they’ll be promoting the US side of the business.”

 

Ironically, MIG’s main opposition for SH 121 is expected to come from two foreign consortiums - one led by Sweden’s Skanska BOT, the other by the Spanish Cintra group.

 

MIG’s consortium partners are Kiewit Texas Construction LP, a division of leading US transportation contractor Kiewit Corp, and Texas highway constructor JD Abrams.

 

MIG currently has an interest in four US toll roads. In 2005 Chicago leased its I-90 Skyway to an MIG-Cintra consortium for $US1.83 billion to pay off city debt and fund non-transportation projects. In 2006, Indiana leased the partners the Indiana Toll Road for $US3.85 billion.

 

Earlier this month the Macquarie Media Group paid $US80 million for American Consolidated Media which publishes 40 community newspapers and shopping publications serving nine communities in Texas and Oklahoma - many of them along the proposed route of the Trans-Texan Corridor.

 

The sale has drawn criticism the newspapers will become propaganda vehicles for MIG.

More deception: TxDOT lies to Austinites about their “free” lanes

It shouldn’t surprise anybody by now that TxDOT has lied to the public. Haven’t we all heard the oft repeated claim that when they convert existing roads into tollways we’ll have as many free lanes as exist today per state law? Well, next to one of the recently opened toll roads in Austin, motorists had one of their free lanes SWIPED by TxDOT causing greater congestion in an attempt to entice more motorists to cough up the cash to use the tollway.
Link to Letter to Editor in the Austin American Statesman here.

————————————————————————

We miss our lane

Before the MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) toll road extension opened, residents of Wells Branch and the surrounding North Austin subdivisions had two free lanes that directly fed into southbound MoPac. Now these residents have the choice to pay 50 cents for about a half-mile on the toll road or enter the very congested one-lane free ramp onto MoPac.

The Texas Department of Transportation has robbed these residents of one of their access lanes to southbound MoPac — a lane that was paid for with our tax dollars.

DIANE GUCCIONE
Austin

State Auditor slams Trans Texas Corridor

TxDOT misled public about use of taxpayer money

My mother called it LYING when someone deliberately fails to tell to the truth, and, in fact, tells someone the opposite of what is true. That’s what TxDOT has done not only with the figures for the state’s transportation “needs,” but also regarding the use of taxpayer money for the Trans Texas Corridor. Rick Perry stated at a press conference last year, in front of KHOU cameras in Houston, that NO TAXPAYER MONEY would go into the Trans Texas Corridor. Now the State Auditor (not sure why he’s just now waking up to this when citizens have asked his office to investigate these toll contracts for nearly 4 years) reveals TxDOT will use taxpayer money for the TTC and that the amount may never be clearly determined without better financial accounting from this corrupt and broken agency.

Cintra’s Annual Report has told its shareholders to plan on a 12% rate of return on their investment. So once again, TxDOT isn’t telling the taxpayers the truth behind their special interest monopolistic deal (that was brokered behind closed doors) to enrich a private, foreign corporation.

 

Link to articles here and here.

Auditor scolds agency for corridor project
Texas Department of Transportation downplayed costs, withheld information, audit says
By Ben Wear
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Texas Department of Transportation has downplayed the potential costs of the Trans-Texas Corridor and potentially inflated expected gains for the project, state auditors said in a report released Friday.

Auditors also said department officials have not been sufficiently open about information on the massive road project and should involve the state comptroller’s office in overseeing future corridor contracts.

The department, in a response included in the 73-page audit, agreed with most of the auditors’ observations and recommendations. But the department defended its decision to withhold for more than a year portions of its contract with corridor developer Cintra-Zachry. And it said the auditor was wrong to conclude that the contract commits the department to guarantee Cintra-Zachry a 12 percent rate of return on what it spends building a 300-mile toll road alternative to Interstate 35.

“The 12 percent was merely a modeling assumption,” the agency’s response says.

The state plans to delete language about a “12 percent guaranteed return on equity” now in the master development plan, the audit says.

The report also says the $3 billion in payments from the developer that the state expects to get could be reduced to nothing if interest rates and inflation are higher than expected. The agency in its response did not address that assertion.

Austin state Sen. Kirk Watson, a Democrat who serves on the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, in a statement said the audit should put the brakes on the corridor project pending further study.

“Texas cannot rush into a project that will help define our future when there are so many uncertainties about the present.” Watson said. “We must step back, demand answers, and (ensure) the public is protected before work proceeds on the Trans-Texas Corridor.”

The Trans-Texas Corridor was proposed in 2002 by Gov. Rick Perry as a 4,000-mile network of tollways, railroads and utility corridors roughly paralleling existing interstate highways in Texas. The department in late 2004 announced that it had selected Cintra-Zachry to create a master plan for developing the first and most-needed of those corridors, the twin to I-35.

The department and Cintra-Zachry in March 2005 reached a $3.5 million agreement for the partnership to create a plan, and the agency released much of the contract. But the agency said release of certain sections was not required until the actual plan was complete, an assertion that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office disputed. Perry’s gubernatorial opponents seized the opportunity to criticize.

The rest of the contract was released last fall when the master plan was completed.

The audit said “it is important that the Department makes all documents, plans, and contracts related to the project public in a timely manner.” The audit did not define “timely.” Even so, the agency remained defiant about its decision to keep the information confidential temporarily. (My emphasis..For 18 months, hardly timely)

“Providing information prior to approval (of the plan) could jeopardize competition during the procurement process,” the agency said in its audit response.