|Increased speed limits more about profits than safety|
|Written by Terri Hall|
|Friday, 13 April 2012|
TxDOT increases speed limits to 80 MPH, why may surprise you
By Terri Hall
April 13, 2012
The Texas Transportation Commission recently passed a Minute Order allowing the posted speed limits on Texas highways to go up to 80 MPH, if traffic studies show its safe.
At a time when motorists are more concerned than ever about ways to conserve fuel and stretch every gallon of gas, this move by the Commission seems ill-timed, and some would even say, reckless (regarding safety).
However, the most disturbing reason for this change in speed limits is what we warned the Texas Legislature of in 2011 -- this is about maximizing toll revenues for a private, foreign corporation, Cintra, as well as for the State of Texas. Both our lawmakers and TxDOT are making transportation decisions based on profit potential, not public safety.
It's no secret that the traffic levels on SH 130 have been abysmal, and TxDOT has been searching for ways to boost the number of cars that take the toll road, even lowering toll rates 67%. But this move to increase speed limits is based solely on the prospect of a higher share of toll revenues TxDOT will split with Cintra when its two segments of SH 130 open later this year.Details are in the public private partnership contract inked in 2007. TxDOT gets a greater share of the toll revenue for every 5 MPH increase in the speed limit up to 85 MPH (See Exhibit 7). Also, once the contract was signed, TxDOT had to either raise the speed limits on Cintra’s tollway, or reduce speed limits on ‘competing’ I-35 (read here and here) or face having to compensate Cintra for any loss in toll revenue absent the changes in speed limits. It’s part of the contract called a non-compete clause that penalizes or restricts what the government can do on ‘competing’ free routes, including imposing restrictions on expansion or the usability of free alternatives.
If any doubt looms that this speed limit hike isn’t connected to Cintra or the ill-fated Trans Texas Corridor (Cintra company once dreamed of building), look no further than the bill to repeal the Trans Texas Corridor (TTC) that passed last session. Two key provisions of the TTC lived on in HB 1201 -- Cintra lobbied hard to make sure of it. Embedded within the bill is a provision to allow the state to increase speed limits up to 85 MPH. Less than a year later, TxDOT delivered for Cintra -- at least to 80 MPH, 10 MPH over the &) 70 MPH maximum on stretches of I-35.
The second is a provision to allow overweight trucks to use the tollway. Cintra’s tollway is specifically built to attract overweight trucks loaded-up with massive cargo imported from China and transported into the U.S. via Mexico’s deepwater port, Lazaro Cardenas, and eventually onto Cintra’s SH 130 bypass around Austin’s congested I-35.
The statute reads: “The commission may authorize the operation of a vehicle that exceeds the weight limitations of Subchapter B, Chapter 621, or the size limitations of Subchapter C, Chapter 621, on a lane designated as an exclusive lane under this section if supported by an engineering and traffic study...”
Usually trucks have weight limits, but that flies out the window under this scenario. SH 130 is considered the only part of Trans Texas Corridor TTC-35 that will ever be built in Central Texas (NOTE: two projects in North Texas - Southwest Parkway/Chishom Trail and a loop around Rockwall County are also regarded as part of the TTC). The message this sends to private corporations is that laws can be suspended if you pay the State enough money for the right to set your own rules.
In addition, it's abundantly obvious that TxDOT is making transportation decisions based on profits and private interests when you factor in the fact that the Commission also recently passed a Minute Order last year implementing a dual designation of existing potential feeder roads into SH 130. The scheme there is to add an additional designation on parts of free interstates I-410 and I-10 from San Antonio to Seguin as SH 130, leaving drivers who wish to continue on a free road stranded. Once drivers get to Seguin, they'll realize there is no way north unless you take the foreign-owned tollway, SH 130.
Case closed, TxDOT is sold out to special interests.
One thing is certain, you can count on Austin and Seguin’s finest to be out en force to issue plenty of speeding tickets along I-35 once Cintra’s segments of the SH 130 tollway open. Anything the state can do to dissuade motorists from using free routes and onto the foreign-owned tollway, they’ll do.
|Last Updated ( Saturday, 14 April 2012 )|
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