CA privatized tollways a bust

Link to article here.

Toll roads can be a bumpy ride
By Jason Hoppin, Monterey County Herald
Posted: 01/03/15

Castroville >> California’s first ventures into the world of privately-funded freeways have been a bumpy ride.

Connecting jobs centers in Orange County to cheaper housing in Riverside County, the 10-mile 91 Express Lanes were built in the middle of an existing public freeway, offering drivers four lanes to bypass — at a price — Southern California’s notorious gridlock.

Operated by California Private Transportation Corp., the road was slow to draw motorists and included a controversial “non-compete” clause, which limited the government’s ability to make roadway improvements elsewhere, sparking lawsuits and motorist outrage. Eventually, Orange County transportation officials bought out the road.

Other proposals never made it off the drawing board after opposition from local government and environmentalists. The bonds used to build another Orange County toll road were once downgraded to junk status. And another toll road near the U.S.-Mexico border went bankrupt in 2010, and is now owned by a regional governing body.

“There are a lot of places in California where they’ve built these roads, and then it didn’t really work so well,” said Martin Wachs, a UCLA-based transportation expert and former head of UC Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies.

But Wachs points out that toll roads have deep roots in U.S. history, dating back to Colonial times when the phrase “turnpike” arose to describe pay roads controlled by a gate. After an era of “freeways,” many planners say going back to toll roads is the future, given the ongoing declines in gas tax revenues needed to meet the nation’s infrastructure needs.

“We’re going to have to face up to new ways of paying for our roads, because the old ways are not producing enough money, and the roads are getting to be in poorer and poorer condition,” Wachs said.

California began experimenting with toll roads in the 1980s, when more fuel-efficient cars were one reason gas-tax dependent transportation funding began to shrink. Public-private toll roads were floated as a way to keep up with demand.

Many of the roads off to rocky starts have turned things around. Travel on the 91 Express Lanes has inched steadily higher, and the excess toll revenues have helped pay for improvements elsewhere.

“Our commitment was to put any excess revenue, beyond paying off the bonds, to improve the free lanes,” said Joel Zlotnik, a spokesman for the Orange County Transportation Agency.

But pay-to-play driving has always drawn charges that it is elitist and encourages sprawl. Wachs pointed out toll roads could help reduce congestion on free roads, but those kinds of concerns, along with environmental opposition, helped kill a once-proposed 40-mile road between Antioch and Sunol in the East Bay.

The proposed Highway 156 toll road between Castroville and Prunedale would route drivers through poor neighborhoods. Castroville earns less and has higher unemployment than the rest of the county, with one in five residents living below the federal poverty line.

While the Transportation Agency for Monterey County hasn’t finalized what the road would cost motorists, pricing on other tolls roads approaches $1 per mile during peak commutes, though most offer a variety of pricing options.
While many toll roads are planned to go free once the bonds are paid off, financial problems at some have pushed that date further into the future. The agency that oversees Orange County’s San Juan Hills toll road, which cuts through wealthy coastal mountains, once saw the road’s bonds downgraded to junk status. They are now being refinanced due to poor ridership and revenue, a move that extends the life of the bonds.

In Illinois and Indiana, truck drivers have seen their tolls hiked in recent years. And poor ridership has plagued a 130-mile Texas toll road between Austin and San Antonio, with that road’s debt recently restructured as well.

Part of the problem is that people are driving less. The amount of miles the average American drives each year has fallen for eight years in a row, a shift partly driven by changing work habits. In Monterey County, for example, the number of people working from home doubled between 2005 and 2010, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Wachs predicts California will continue exploring toll roads, pointing out they are more popular on the East Coast and in other parts of the world, including Indonesia and China, are one of the main methods of building new roads.
“Private operators are very common throughout the rest of the world,” Wachs said.

But he cautioned that any government agency wanting to build one should hire a good lawyer to craft an airtight deal. The advantage of public-private partnerships, Wachs said, is that it shifts the financial risk onto private operators.

“The critical question when you create these public private partnership is who’s responsible for the risk,” Wachs said.

Colorado highway office says no to P3 on Denver Beltway

Link to article here.

Finally, a government with some fiscal sense!

Colorado Office Recommends Against P3 for Toll Lanes on Denver Beltway
By Editor
November 20, 2014
National Council on Public Private Partnerships

The Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) has recommended against financing a $230 million expansion of a portion of the beltway on the south side of the Denver metro area.

Maryland tolls on I-95 will lose money

Link to article here.

New Maryland toll lanes will lose money
by Ben Ross
December 8, 2014
Greater, Greater Washington.org

New toll lanes that opened Saturday on I-95 promise to be a financial debacle for Maryland. In all probability, the tolls won't bring in enough money to pay the extra cost of building toll lanes rather than widening the highway without tolls.

Salzman on Toll Roads to Ruin: The catch to public private partnerships

Link to article here.

Roads to Ruin
Opinion: "We’ve let private companies get away with the claim that efficiency will lead to cheaper and better highways when what it often leads to is massive taxpayer debt."
By Randy Salzman
Style Weekly
November 11, 2014
 
The company that runs the $3.8 billion Indiana Toll Road went under in September, adding to the list of nearly a dozen transportation-based public-private partnerships in bankruptcy court across the country.

Few of the rest, including Virginia's 22 public-private partnerships, known as P3s, are meeting their toll and income projections. Maryland's InterCounty Connector has quadrupled in cost to $4 billion while carrying less than half of its projected vehicles.

Bias in traffic forecasts lead to failing toll roads

Link to article here.

Optimism Bias and Risk in Public Private Partnerships
The tolling technology is better than ever — but traffic forecasts are a disaster.
by James A. Bacon
Bacon’s Rebellion
November 14, 2014

Randy Salzman, a free-lance Charlottesville writer, has spent the last couple of years trying to understand how Public Private Partnerships (P3s) work in Virginia. If the private sector is supposed to be so much more efficient than government, he asks, how  come so many big P3 transportation projects in Virginia and across the nation have gone bankrupt? Why do private sector companies continue investing in similar projects despite the obvious risk? And what exposure do taxpayers when deals go bad? He doesn’t have any definitive answers, but he lays out a lot of good questions in the latest issue of Style Weekly.

The downside to self-driving cars

Obama’s Science Czar Wants Self-driving Automobile Mandates to Further Agenda 21
Driverless cars will sacrifice freedom in place of vague sustainability. Clear evidence has emerged over the past few years that man does not cause global warming – which is why the environmentalists sneakily changed the phrase to “climate change” – yet these radical policies are still being adopted at great economic cost to taxpayers, both through taxes and rising personal expenses. While driverless cars could prove to be an innovative, cost-effective development for the future, implementing them as a mandate from government will destroy any benefit and serve to curtail our freedoms and further Agenda 21 and its associated UN control.

Read this exclusive for Selous Foundation written by columnist Rachel Alexander here.

How toll companies make money even when the toll road loses money

Link to article here.

How Macquarie Makes Money By Losing Money on Toll Roads
by Angie Schmitt and Payton Chung
Streetsblog USA
November 19, 2014

This is the second post in a three-part series about privately financed highways. Part one introduced the Indiana Toll Road privatization as an example of shoddily structured infrastructure deals. Part three looks at how faulty traffic projections lead bad projects to get built, and how the public ends up paying for those mistakes.

Macquarie Group, the gigantic Australian financial services firm with some $400 billion in assets under management, has made a lot of money in the infrastructure privatization game.

The publicly traded company owns the Brussels Airport, the Dulles Greenway, telecommunications towers in Mexico, a wind farm in Kenya, and much more. One of those assets was the Indiana Toll Road, which Macquarie purchased in 2006 with Spanish firm Ferrovial — whose most profitable assets include Heathrow Airport and the 407 toll road ringing Toronto. The Indiana Toll Road was housed in a spinoff company called ITR Concession Co. LLC., which filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy in September after a disastrous eight-year run.

Alamo planning board hastily obligates Prop 1, adopts more toll roads

Link to article here.

Alamo planning board hastily obligates Prop 1 money, adopts more toll roads
By Terri Hall
December 9, 2014
Examiner.com

Yesterday, the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (or AAMPO) voted to adopt its long-range plan, Mobility 2040, that will add 4 new toll projects and 34 other new projects that will obligate ten years of Proposition One money. The AAMPO has long promised that when new funding became available, they would turn previously planned toll lanes back into free lanes on projects like US 281 in San Antonio. Prop 1 passed with 81% of the vote on November 4, and voters overwhelmingly approved the measure precisely because the funds could not be used for toll projects. Now taxpayers are facing still more toll roads.

The betrayal taxpayers feel kicked into high gear when the AAMPO voted to add yet more toll roads to the plan instead of turn toll lanes on existing major corridors back into free lanes as promised. Voters do not get to select which elected officials are appointed to the AAMPO, so there’s no direct accountability.

Anti-toll hero Kolkhorst wins senate seat

Lois Kolkhorst wins senate seat
Anti-toll leader to take senate by storm


December 6, 2014 marks a pivotal day in Texas history. Lois Kolkhorst won the senate seat, SD 18, in a special election to replace pro-toll Glenn Hegar who was elected Comptroller November 4. Kolkhorst has been the one true anti-toll stalwart in the Texas House during her tenure. She authored the bill to the repeal the Trans Texas Corridor and as well as the bill to protect Texans from privatized toll roads that milk taxpayers and dole out plenty of sweetheart deals for special interests.

Last session, she carried our bill to make the toll come off the road when it's paid for to prevent perpetual taxation. While on the Sunset Committee, she fought for legislation to make the Transportation Commission an elected board rather than the current structure of unaccountable appointees. She's just as strong on property rights carrying key amendments and legislation that would force the government to return land taken with eminent domain to the original owners if it wasn't used for the purpose for which it was taken within 10 years.

Her stellar pro-taxpayer record can be viewed here. In it we contrast her record to the anti-taxpayer and pro-toll record of the current Senate Transportation Committee Chair Robert Nichols. We'd love to see the incoming Lt. Governor Dan Patrick appoint this great conservative, Lois Kolkhorst, to Chair the Transportation Committee and replace the era of Perry-Nichols that lurched the state toward punitive taxation through unaccountable, tax-subsidized toll roads, and took us from pay-as-you-go to now leading the country in road debt.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and tell him we can't allow a committee chair that's so anti-taxpayer to continue to lead this important committee. Texans voted for change, not the status quo when they elected Dan Patrick. We need a true conservative to Chair Transportation and the best person for the job is Lois Kolkhorst - bar none!

Raw sewage: Johnson Ranch developer trucking sewage out, dumping silt on neighbor's land

Link to article here.

Graham property
Johnson Ranch developer trucking sewage out, dumping silt on neighbor's land

By Terri Hall
October 21, 2014
Examiner.com

It’s hard to believe there’s a colonia in the Texas Hill Country, but apparently there is at the Johnson Ranch housing development in Bulverde. Since its amended permit for sewage treatment has not been approved, rather than wait until it was, DHJB Development went ahead and started building homes and is currently pumping raw sewage from the homes and hauling it off-site. The Johnson Ranch public elementary school is just 840 feet away. Parents of the children attending the school should know that. It’s highly likely the upscale residents of Johnson Ranch don’t know how their sewage is being handled either.

In order to have the authority to do this pumping and hauling of raw sewage, a lift station must be in operation. According to one environmental services company, “wastewater lift stations are facilities designed to move wastewater from lower to higher elevation, particularly where the elevation of the source is not sufficient for gravity flow.”

Conflict of interest: 281 consultant writes city's transportation plan

Link to article here.

Bulverde Transportation Plan written by 281 toll consultant
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
October 20, 2014

A Transportation Forum sponsored by the City of Bulverde, the Economic Development Foundation, and the Chamber of Commerce was held at GVTC on October 16. It was a 4-hour marathon brought to you by the same consultants, HNTB, hired by the Bexar County toll authority known as the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (or RMA).

The HNTB moderator, Tom Wendorf, used to head the Bexar County Public Works Department and actually VOTED to toll US 281 during his entire tenure on the local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The fact that the City of Bulverde hired this company to write its Major Thoroughfare Plan (MTP) for our area is breathtaking. Whom you hire determines the outcome. Bulverde residents have loudly declared they do not want to pay $8/day in tolls to get into San Antonio (as the current proposal would require), nor do we want 12 stop lights added to US 281, as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is planning to do as presented to an overflow crowd at the public meeting in July at the library.

Landowners revolt: Push cities to oppose private Blacklands tollway

Link to article here.

Citizens blitz local governments to stop private Blacklands tollway
By Terri Hall
October 16, 2014
Examiner.com

Opposition to the controversial private Blacklands-Northeast Gateway Toll Road from Garland to Greenville east of Dallas kicked into high gear this week when concerned citizens did a full court press to pressure remaining cities and counties to pass resolutions opposing the toll road. Seven cities had already passed resolutions prior to Tuesday. Those cities include Fate, Josephine, Lavon, Nevada, Rockwall, Sasche, and Wylie. The Rockwall County Democratic Party also passed a resolution opposing the tollway.

On ‘Super Tuesday,’ residents blitzed four city council meetings and one county commissioners meetings in one day. The City of Rowlett agreed to pass a resolution and Caddo Mills plans to pass one prior to the next crucial meeting of the Regional Transportation Council (RTC) on November 13, where the board may decide whether or not to adopt the tollway into its short and long-range plans.

Prop 1 on the skids with voters

UPDATE: After this article stirred up trouble, TxDOT put a promise in writing that no portion of Prop 1 will be used to support toll roads.

Link to article here.

Prop 1 on collision course with taxpayers
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
October 15, 2014

Though a supermajority of Texas legislators with the help of virtually every Chamber of Commerce are out stumping for Prop 1 in all earnestness, their efforts are starting to fall on deaf ears as more Texans tune in to the persistent problems with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Prop 1, on the ballot November 4, would take half of the oil and gas severance tax currently collected on oil and gas production (that normally goes to the state’s Rainy Day Fund) and send it to the state highway fund for the next 10 years.

A more in-depth look at the structural road funding shortfall and the pros and cons of Prop 1’s role in it can be found here. Today, the concern isn’t about whether or not Prop 1 is the right approach to address the shortfall, but rather about something that popped up in the Dallas Morning News which said, “A caveat in Proposition 1 forbids the extra funds, which could equal about $1.7 billion a year, from being used on toll projects. But Bill Hale, TxDOT’s engineer operations director for metro districts, said a connection to the Trinity Parkway (toll road) wouldn’t be barred from using the funds because the project itself isn’t tolled.”

TxDOT spokesman Tony Hartzel then quipped: “That’s his take on it.”

What's involved with Prop 1?

Link to article here.

Issues to consider when voting on Prop 1
By Terri Hall
October 12, 2014
Examiner.com

Many Texans are struggling to decide whether or not to support the upcoming constitutional amendment  known as Proposition 1 on the ballot November 4. Prop 1 would take half of the oil and gas severance tax currently collected on oil and gas production (that goes to capitalize the state’s Rainy Day Fund), and allocate those funds to the state highway fund for the next 10 years.

There are many issues to consider when deciding how to vote. Many Texans wonder why there needs to be an amendment to the constitution to address highway funding. They think the federal and state taxes, or user fees, we pay on every gallon of gasoline pay for highways. Few Texans are aware of the structural road funding shortfall facing Texas and the nation.

Abbott, Davis both claim anti-toll positions

Link to article here.

Both gubernatorial candidates stake out anti-toll positions
By Terri Hall
October 2, 2014
Examiner.com

Texas gubernatorial candidates Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis claimed to be against more toll roads at last night’s debate. Perhaps the recent research conducted by Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) that shows Texans do not want anymore tolls made the decision to be anti-toll a little easier. What’s shocking however, is that Wendy Davis thinks she can get away with it.

Since Davis entered the Texas senate in 2009, she’s done nothing but vote in favor of toll roads, even for the controversial private, corporate toll roads known as public private partnerships (P3s). Prior to her stint in the senate, she served as a Ft. Worth council member where she was appointed to serve on the Regional Transportation Council. Davis cried crocodile tears when the legislature yanked a P3 contract from Spanish toll giant, Cintra, for Hwy 121 in 2007. The contract would have locked down the expansion of free roads in Collin and Denton counties for the next 52 years. The toll rates Cintra could have charged in those final years would have been more than the cost of an airplane ticket from San Antonio to Dallas.

Research: Texans do NOT want more toll roads

Link to article here.

Texans know what they like: free, open, bike-free roads
By Dug Begley
Houston Chronicle blog
September 25, 2014

There may be no such thing as a free ride, but that doesn’t mean Texas drivers can’t dream. According to a new study from Texas A&M Transportation Institute researchers, the state’s drivers would like more investment in everything from sequenced traffic lights to public transit — even if they do not want to ride the bus themselves.

What they currently don’t want, according to a survey that researchers conduct every two years, is more toll roads, or giving bicyclists a major say in how transportation is planned.

Private Northeast Gateway tollway near Dallas draws angry crowd

Link to article here.

Private tollway near east Dallas draws ire from record crowd
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 23, 2014

The people have spoken and their will is clear - they do not want the proposed private Blacklands Tollway-Northeast Gateway corridor through Rockwall to Greenville in east Dallas. Last night, a record capacity crowd of nearly 1,500 showed up to get their opposition to the controversial toll project on the record. Landowners and concerned citizens voiced their opinions to the Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC) and the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) at a public meeting held in Rockwall that lasted until after midnight.

The initial public meeting took place on September 4 in Lavon, but the fire marshal shut it down due an overcapacity crowd. They planned on 250 and 500 showed up. The meeting was rescheduled for last night. So tripling the number of attendees in just a few weeks demonstrates that the public opposition to this private toll project is only gaining steam and showing no signs of petering out.

The overwhelming majority spoke in opposition, primarily because this private corporation can wield the power of eminent domain for its private toll road that company documents show is projected to net $78 million in annual profits by 2035. Yet the company claimed last night that it didn’t know how much profit the toll road was anticipated to make.

Cintra files bankruptcy on Indiana Toll Road, is SH 130 next?

Link to article here.

Cintra, Macquarie file bankruptcy on Indiana Toll Road
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 23, 2014

Yesterday, the two private, foreign corporations that tookover the Indiana Toll Road in 2006 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels sold it to Spanish infrastructure company Cintra and Australia-based Macquarie in a $3.8 billion, 75-year lease that raised eyebrows around the world.

Few thought a road could fetch so much money. It set off a chain reaction of state governments clamoring for quick cash to shore-up shrinking highway funding. Indiana used the money to build other highway projects, forcing Indiana Toll Road users to pay for other road expansion they don’t use. The state has long since spent the money in the short-term, but now the tollway is in long-term trouble.

When Cintra and Macquarie acquired the tollway, they immediately doubled the toll rates. The troubled road has failed to attract enough traffic to repay its $5.8 billion in debt still owed on the project. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the road is in bankruptcy when they’ve doubled the cost to use it. In a true market approach, if not enough customers are buying your product, you lower the price, not increase it. The hedge fund and distressed debt investors that now own about 80% of the debt have agreed to allow Cintra and Macquarie to restructure their debt or dupe another company into buying it.

Munoz' ties to 281 toll road create trail of corruption

Link to article here. Update: Munoz & team did snag the contract.

Munoz' ties to 281 toll road create trail of corruption
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 17, 2014

The Express-News reported yesterday that Henry Munoz is angling to get a piece of the US 281 toll project in San Antonio by seeking a 5-year engineering contract with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA). The trouble stems from his sordid history of buying and manipulating local politicians, and he’s particularly adept at it when it comes to transportation. He's set-up his own company to now profit from the project he helped fashion while a public official.

Munoz is a former member of the Texas Turnpike Authority and a former Texas Transportation Commissioner, who resigned from the agency under a cloud of scandal for his staff abusing the state travel program and for providing inside information to a Mexican construction company in exchange for lavish accommodations, travel, and other personal pay-offs. Nearly a decade later, Munoz was appointed to the Alamo RMA and served as its Finance Committee Chair. He bolted when Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) successfully sued to halt the US 281 project in 2008. It was just no fun for him to be there anymore. No money to snag for the foreseeable future.

RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign

Link to article here.

RMA targets toll opposition in taxpayer-funded PR campaign
By Terri Hall
Examiner.com
September 18, 2014

You’ve probably heard the radio ads with Alamo Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) Chairman John Clamp touting the benefits of the US 281 toll project. If you’re like me, you got steaming mad that a toll authority is using our tax money to convince the public that tolling our existing freeways is a great idea.

I wanted to find out just how much money they’re sinking into this public relations campaign. An open records request revealed that they’ll spend up to $371,294 for radio and television ads, extensive newspaper ads, billboards, and a massive public ‘outreach’ campaign selling their toll road to your homeowners associations, civic groups, churches, chambers of commerce, and anyone that will let them in the door.

The primary contractor, HNTB, hired Trish DeBerry for the task, whose firm previously bid on the 281 toll project as part of a design-build team before her run for Mayor. Ultimately, the RMA has retained her PR services at a cost of $25,000 a month.