Link to article here.
The Death Toll: An Expensive Tollway’s High Cost in Human Lives
State Highway 288 was built by a private equity firm, letting TxDOT abdicate its responsibility to both drivers and construction workers.
December 11, 2023
The sun was sinking toward the horizon when brothers Alejandro and Juan Simental drove their pickup less than 10 minutes from a Motel 6 to their job site: a pricey new toll road they were helping to build alongside busy State Highway 288. A week before, they had left their home in Arlington to work in the flat southern edge of Houston’s suburbs, the bustling intersection of State Highway 288 (SH 288) and Beltway 8. That’s where their employer, Choctaw Erectors, a steel construction company, was subcontracted to help build the Texas Department of Transportation’s latest privately operated tollway.
They shared their no-frills motel room with a coworker, sleeping only a few hours just to get up and work again. Their shifts were punishing—nine to 12 hours, often overnight, seven days a week. But that evening, as the Houston sky gradually dimmed to a streetlight-stained dark gray, Alejandro, Juan, and five others on their crew established a rhythm. Alternating thumps and whirrs sounded as they laid and bolted corrugated metal decking, piece by piece, onto the tollway’s four bridge girders, 85 feet above the ground.
As the sun began to rise on June 21, 2019, Alejandro, 21, who stood around 5 feet 3 inches tall and was stocky like his brother, was working on a section of the bridge just a few feet away from Juan. There were about 15 minutes left in their shift when Juan reached the end of the first girder. Realizing that the 6-foot double safety lanyard he wore, which was tied to a safety line, did not allow him to reach the second girder more than 7 feet away, Juan briefly unhooked the lanyard from his safety harness and walked across the steel decking.
Foreman Jorge Carlos was the only one to hear the scream as Juan tripped and fell 85 feet, head first. Seconds later, realizing his brother had fallen, Alejandro let the metal sheet he was holding drop from his hands and clatter to the ground. He rushed to an elevated boom lift that lowered him to his brother’s side.
Blood was already soaking into the soil. To the west of Juan’s feet lay his white hard hat and his right brown slip-on boot. His black plastic headlamp was still glowing. Co-workers gave Juan CPR. Police arrived in four minutes, the medic nine minutes later. That was too late. At 4:58 a.m., just two minutes before their shift was to end, Juan was pronounced dead. He was 22.
It's no surprise that the federally-funded North Texas Regional Transportation Council will once again lobby for more toll roads, specifically public private partnerships that cost drivers' a premium in peak hours, but it's particularly offensive given the economic downturn and what are likely permanent changes to traffic patterns now that millions of Texans have shown they can work from home and stay productive. Toll road debt is more risky than ever as the toll industry asked congress for a $9.2 billion bailout earlier this year due to coronavirus lockdowns. Who knows what the future of road tax revenues will look like post-COVID.
Regional Planning Council Prioritizes High-Speed Rail and Toll Lanes as Part of Legislative Agenda
As the 87th legislative session commences in January, local officials plan to advocate for increased funding for transportation projects including high-speed rail and the ability to utilize toll roads and managed lanes.
By Kim Roberts
November 13, 2020
As the 87th Texas Legislative Session approaches its commencement in January, the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) Regional Transportation Council (RTC) has approved its legislative program.
The council plans to promote and support legislation in four primary areas: (1) funding transportation and transit projects, (2) expanding transportation options in mega-metropolitan regions, (3) pursuing innovation, technology, and safety, and (4) improving air quality.
The legislative priorities of the RTC will be transmitted to the members of the legislature.
Lawmakers leave without giving drivers toll tax reliefBy Terri Hall
May 28, 2019
Sometimes a win isn’t gauged by what you pass, but by what you stopped. The results of the 86th legislative session are definitely the later. In short, the taxpayers got very little as far as toll tax relief. With 28 different toll systems and 55 toll projects in place today, without passing toll cessation Texas drivers will never see an end to paying toll taxes nor an end to toll agencies expanding their existing systems out further and further — forever. However, the grassroots opposition to five bad toll road bills that would have handed Texas’ public highways to private, foreign entities in 50-year sweetheart deals along with other giveaways to private toll companies, managed to kill all of them -- the worst being HB 1951 by Matt Krause, a member of the Freedom Caucus.
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) alone (not to mention the other 12 local toll agencies across the state) has put more than two million Texas drivers into collections for unpaid tolls. Just TxDOT has imposed over $1 billion in fines and fees in addition to the actual tolls owed. The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (Austin area) testified before the Senate Transportation Committee last August that of the $100 million its collected in tolls, $85 million was fines and fees. Toll fines and fees are out of control and making Texas drivers virtually an unlimited ATM machine to feed relentless unelected toll bureaucracies — in short, tolling has become a license to steal.
On this Texas toll road, drivers want to know why they’re paying $15 for just 5 miles
Why some Fort Worth toll roads are charging up to $15
By Gordon Dickson
April 23, 2019
Ft. Worth Star Telegram
Some North Texas drivers say they're alarmed that tolls on some of the Dallas-Fort Worth region's TEXPress lanes are skyrocketing to as much as $15, up from just $1 during less heavily-traveled periods.
Susan Forbes could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the price posted on the electronic sign, which pointed the way to an entrance for the TEXPress toll lanes on Texas 183 in Bedford.
She was about to enter a toll road that would charge her $15 for a distance of less than six miles.
DON'T BE FOOLED BY THE FAKE TOLL ROAD REFORM BILL - KILL HB 1951
What could be wrong with legislation called the ‘Toll Payer Protection Act’?
Well, despite its name and its Texas Freedom Caucus author, HB 1951 is a special interest bill written by lobbyists for the benefit of their clients in the Big Road Lobby. The true grassroots-supported legislation for taxpayer-friendly reforms are SB 374 (Hall) / HB 436 (Shaheen) — genuine toll cessation and SB 382 (Hall) — toll collection reform.
A Bill Analysis: Why HB 1951 is a Special Interest FAKE Toll Road Reform Bill
Article I -
HB 1951 authorizes Comprehensive Development Agreements (the term used in Texas statute for public private partnership toll roads) and design-build contracts for projects over $1 billion (which is most projects in our urban areas). This is a non-starter for taxpayers. Why? Public Private Partnerships (or P3s) hand our public highways over to private, foreign corporations in 50 year monopolies with guaranteed profits, taxpayer bailouts, and the ability to charge punitively high tolls (like LBJ in DFW that can top $24/day in peak hours). See this policy brief with details and examples of why P3s are corporate welfare and anti-taxpayer. Both the Texas Democratic and Republican Party platforms have planks opposing privatized toll roads.
The End of the Road
The state had great plans for the southern leg of Texas 130. An 85-mile-an-hour speed limit, no direct, up-front cost to state taxpayers, millions of dollars in toll revenue for the state. What happened?
By Katherine Blunt
San Antonio Express-news
September 16, 2016
When the Texas Department of Transportation signed a deal for the first public-private toll road in the state, it touted the partnership as a win for everybody: The San Antonio-Austin area would get a new section of highway at no upfront cost to Texas taxpayers, private developers would run the operation and profit over time, and the state would own the road and earn millions of dollars in toll revenue.
The deal allowed Cintra, a Spanish infrastructure developer, and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp. to build, operate and maintain the 41-mile southern section of Texas 130 for 50 years as part of a lease agreement with TxDOT. Slicing through farmland between Seguin and Mustang Ridge, south of Austin, the road would become known for its 85-mph speed limit — the highest in the country.
“Over the 50 years, we would receive, it’s estimated, a substantial amount of revenues,” former TxDOT tolling official Phil Russell told the Texas Transportation Commission before it approved the deal in 2006. “It would be worth $245 million (in toll revenue) and a long-term funding source for operation and maintenance.”
Less than a decade later, Cintra and Zachry plan to walk away from the project and hand their bankrupt joint venture, SH 130 Concession Co., to its lenders. The company owes federal taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars and is engaged in a years-long dispute with TxDOT about maintenance and construction problems on the sparsely traveled road. And so far, it has paid the state only about $3 million in toll revenue.
Link to read the full expose' here.
Trump plan to lift ban on tolling existing interstates met with stiff opposition
By Terri Hall
February 13, 2018
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
The lowly taxpayer just can’t seem to cut a break. Weeks after the euphoria of passing the largest tax cut in a generation, President Donald Trump released his infrastructure proposal pushing toll roads and public private partnerships (P3s), which spells disaster for those middle class workers’ pocketbooks. The most contentious proposal being lifting the ban on tolling existing interstates.
Former U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) was instrumental in protecting taxpayers from double taxation by defending the ban on tolling existing interstates during her tenure, even imposing a special provision to protect Texas. Now Trump wants to provide states “flexibility to toll existing interstates.” This means the lanes you drive today toll-free could now have tolls slapped on them simply to generate revenue for big government as a new tax in the hands of unelected toll agencies or to line the pockets of private toll operators — completely out of reach of the voters.
Out of control: Commuters clobbered with $44 one way in tolls
By Terri Hall
December 22, 2017
Tolls hit $44 one way to go 10 miles on Interstate 66 in Virginia. Rub your eyes and read that again. Tolls have become the new ‘drug’ of choice for politicians and bureaucrats. It’s become a legalized form of highway robbery. While elected officials try to navigate the mess they’ve made by unleashing unelected transportation bureaucrats with the unfettered power to enter into secret contracts with foreign corporations behind closed doors and giving them carte blanche access to commuters wallets with virtually no limit, it’s no wonder toll rates have reached unsustainable levels in a few short years after state lawmakers embarked on the grand toll experiment.
With little checks and balances, commuters are now locked into congestion misery or face financial hardship the likes of which have never been seen in America simply to get to work. For many, working will no longer pay the cost of getting there. It’s not just I-66, but also interstates 95, 395, and 495. Express toll lanes, often referred to as ‘managed’ lanes, are the new normal in many metropolitan areas, especially in states that jumped on board early due to the influence of Bob Poole and the Reason Foundation — like Florida, Texas, and Virginia.
By Terri Hall
November 9, 2017
With Cindy Burkett throwing her hat in the ring in an attempt to unseat grassroots conservative stalwart Senator Bob Hall, the voters of Texas Senate District 2 need to know about her record. Burkett was quick to support selling off Interstate 635 E to the highest bidder using a controversial toll contract known in Texas as a comprehensive development agreement (or CDA) that gives control of our public roads to private toll companies.
Interstate 635 toll lanes from I-35E to the Dallas North Tollway are already operated by Spain-based Cintra. Commuters in the Metroplex face paying upwards of $24/day in tolls to this foreign corporation just to get to work, and no elected official has any control over how high those toll rates can go. Burkett wants that tax burden to extend to commuters in her own district from US 75 to I-30.
Trump pulls the plug on private toll roads, centerpiece of infrastructure plan
By Terri Hall
Setpember 30, 2017
It’s big news for taxpayers, but for the special interests who have been pushing public private partnerships (P3s) and toll roads as the way to fund $1 trillion in upgrades to America’s infrastructure not so much. This week, President Donald Trump officially pulled the plug on P3s as the centerpiece to his infrastructure plan.
The president said simply, “They don’t work.”
Trump mentioned it in a meeting with members of the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday as the president met with lawmakers to discuss tax reform. Citing the failure of the Interstate-69 P3 contract done under Vice President Mike Pence when he was governor of Indiana, the state recently had to sever the contract, take over the project, and issue its own debt to get it finished.
By Terri Hall
July 8, 2017
The defunct SH 130 tollway just emerged from bankruptcy court and the news isn’t good for taxpayers. In 2007, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) entered into a Comprehensive Development Agreement, or public private partnership, with SH 130 Concession Company, a subsidiary of Spain-based Cintra and Zachry Toll Road 56, which had ownership dispersed among Australian and many other foreign entities. The 41-mile southern stretch of SH 130 opened in November 2012, designed to be a bypass around congested downtown Austin. But the traffic never materialized and the private concession company sought bankruptcy protection in March 2016. According to the terms that emerged from bankruptcy court, all of the private entity’s $1.4 billion debt was wiped away, leaving federal taxpayers left holding the bag for the $430 million federally-backed Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan given to the private entities.
Texas taxpayers feel betrayed. Former Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson swore under oath before the Senate Transportation Committee on March 1, 2007, that if the private entities went bankrupt, the Texas taxpayers would get the road back free and clear of any debt. Free and clear means no debt obligations, and therefore no need to continue to charge tolls for usage. However, that didn’t happen. Instead, new owners were brought in, Strategic Value Partners, $260 million in new debt was issued, and the new private company will continue to charge tolls until the contract is up in 2062 — for a road that now owes virtually no debt compared to its original $1.4 billion.
Watch the Bloomberg story on it here.
Those who voted to hand 19 TX roads to private, foreign toll operators are:
Yeas 51 — Allen; Alonzo; Alvarado; Are´valo; Blanco; Burkett; Button; Coleman; Collier; Cortez; Elkins; Farrar; Flynn; Geren; Giddings; Gooden; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez; Howard; Huberty; Israel; Johnson, E.; King, K.; King, P.; Koop; Longoria; Lucio; Martinez; Moody; Morrison; Murphy; Neave; Oliveira; Ortega; Perez; Phillips; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Rose; Sheffield; Shine; Smithee; Thompson, E.; Thompson, S.; Turner; Uresti; Villalba; Walle; Workman.
Taxpayer champions who voted against are:
Nays 82 — Anderson, C.; Anderson, R.; Bailes; Bell; Biedermann; Bohac; Bonnen, D.; Bonnen, G.; Burns; Burrows; Cain; Canales; Capriglione; Clardy; Cosper; Craddick; Cyrier; Dale; Darby; Dean; Deshotel; Dukes; Dutton; Faircloth; Fallon; Frank; Frullo; Goldman; Gonzales; Gonza´lez; Hefner; Herrero; Holland; Hunter; Isaac; Kacal; Keough; King, T.; Klick; Krause; Lambert; Landgraf; Lang; Larson; Laubenberg; Leach; Lozano; Metcalf; Meyer; Miller; Mun˜oz; Murr; Neva´rez; Oliverson; Parker; Paul; Phelan; Pickett; Price; Raney; Reynolds; Rinaldi; Roberts; Romero; Schaefer; Schofield; Schubert; Shaheen; Simmons; Springer; Stephenson; Stickland; Stucky; Swanson; Thierry; Tinderholt; VanDeaver; White; Wilson; Wray; Zedler; Zerwas.
Absent, Excused — Anchia; Paddie; Wu.
Absent, Excused, Committee Meeting — Ashby; Davis, S.; Davis, Y.; Sanford.
Absent Unexcused — Bernal; Cook; Gervin-Hawkins; Guillen; Hinojosa; Johnson, J.; Kuempel; Minjarez; Vo.
Source: House Journal Recorded Vote
See press release: VICTORY: Grassroots KILL private toll bill, secure Abbott's vision for toll-free future
Trump floats gas tax increase after cold reception to privatized toll roads
By Terri Hall
May 5, 2017
It’s tough being a change-agent. Newly minted President Donald Trump came into office with high hopes of a major infrastructure overhaul. With the nation’s crumbling bridges, pothole stricken roads, and millions of commuters choking in urban congestion, Trump had a big plan to harness the private sector through public private partnerships (P3s) to address congestion by adding toll lanes. The problem is those privatized toll lanes grant private, usually foreign, entities monopolies over vital public highways where the companies are given the exclusive right to extract the highest possible tolls for 50-99 years.
With the pushback to P3s coming fast and furious from working class families to truckers, Trump has begun to change his tack. After meeting with members of the trucking industry this week, Trump has floated the idea of a federal gas tax increase to raise the revenue necessary for the big infrastructure fix. Truckers prefer a gas tax increase to tolls.
Here’s the back story. The National Highway Trust Fund, which is funded with a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon, has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for over a decade while the gas tax has remained unchanged since 1993. Inflation has diminished its buying power over the last 24 years, and members of congress have been reluctant to raise it. Under President George W. Bush, many Republicans pushed road privatization and implementing toll ‘managed’ lanes as the means to finance road projects as perpetual road funding shortfalls plagued the highway system.
Revolt: Sister city fights back against Cibolo private toll road
By Terri Hall
April 6, 2017
A funny thing happened on the way to handing over a public highway to a private toll operator —a sister city said an unequivocal, ‘No!’ A small suburb of San Antonio, the city of Cibolo, inked an irrevocable deal to hand an existing public highway, FM 1103, over to a private toll company so it could place express toll lanes down the middle, granting it the exclusive right to operate both the toll lanes and the existing free lanes for the next 50 years. FM 1103 runs through the city limits of Schertz before it connects to Interstate 35. But what Cibolo didn’t count on was its neighboring city not cooperating with the scheme.
By Terri Hall
After a controversial decision by the Cibolo City Council to give development rights for a private toll road to a corporation that's never even built a road last week, Cibolo Mayor Allen Dunn has been busy shooting the messenger. The Development Agreement, kept secret from the public prior to its approval last week, was finally made public and it verifies and validates citizen concerns. When the terms of an exclusive 50-year development agreement was negotiated in secret and handed to a single private firm in a no bid contract, it shouldn't surprise elected officials when the public is irate.
The city signed an irrevocable development agreement with, Cibolo Turnpike, an entity created by the investors of Texas Turnpike Corporation. The draft operating agreement requires the city to repay all the company's debt and the net present value of future distributions (anticipated revenues) if it wants out of the deal -- after it's built. There is no other way out for the city, however, there are lots of exit strategies for the company.
So what are some of the other red flags? First, the agreement seeks to give operational control of the non-toll portion of FM 1103, a state highway, to the private company.
Lone Star Rail resurrected by link to I-35 toll lane debacle
By Terri Hall
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
August 24, 2016
The saying that two things are inevitable — death and taxes — just got expanded to three things: death, taxes, and government boondoggles that never die. Yesterday, the day after the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) unanimously rejected funding further study of the Lone Star Rail which was on the heels of the Capitol Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) pulling its funding, the Bexar County Commissioners Court passed a resolution to transfer the Lone Star Rail environmental study from the Lone Star Rail District to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). So now, not only will every Texan’s state gasoline taxes be paying for this rail boondoggle at the state level, the resolution also called for moving the rail corridor over to Interstate-35, despite the Texas GOP platform's plank opposing rail.
The Lone Star Rail project envisions a 77-mile commuter rail between Austin and San Antonio, and it’s been studied since the creation of the Lone Star Rail District by the Texas Legislature in 1997. Over $20 million in taxpayer funds have already been spent on studying the feasibility of the corridor, and the price tag is somewhere between $2-$3 billion (that’s a big range). Union Pacific announced in February it would not allow the rail project to utilize its tracks. The feds passed on granting the project federal funding. Then the Chair of CAMPO, Will Conley, decided enough is enough and led the charge to have the board vote to defund the project August 8, leading all to believe it was the death knell for the Lone Star Rail.
Public private partnerships are one thing both liberal and conservatives can agree on - they're a BAD deal for taxpayers.
Report Examines Equity In Toll Road Deals
Policy paper from the Center for American Progress addresses misconceptions about the way toll roads are financed.
August 12, 2016
States have increasingly turned to tolling as a solution to heir funding and infrastructure problems. Private tolling companies end up with very little skin of their own in the game when making deals to take over roads, according to a report released Wednesday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. The group reviewed the US Department of Transportation's Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) federal loan program and found that the two dozen toll road projects it financed with taxpayer dollars had an average value of $1.3 billion, but the average equity investment was just $183 million, or 14 percent.
Texas’ first foreign-owned toll road handed to its creditors
By Terri Hall
August 15, 2016
Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research
It was so predictable. The people of Texas revolted against former Governor Rick Perry’s grand network of toll roads, once dubbed the Trans Texas Corridor, and many grassroots groups that sprung up to oppose it predicted its eventual demise. The press, always eager to jump on the ribbon cuttings, seldom show you the angling inside bankruptcy court, yet that’s where State Highway 130 Concession Company ended up. As part of its Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Spain-based Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry ceded the delinquent toll project to its creditors Friday.
The southern 41-mile stretch of SH 130, a bypass designed to avoid Austin traffic from Mustang Ridge to Seguin, opened with much fanfare in November of 2012, including an appearance by Perry who hailed this first public private partnership (or P3) as highway nirvana and ‘visionary.’ But crony capitalism is as old as dirt and taxpayers didn’t see it as anything other than graft.