Spain seeks to keep its bailout of private toll roads off its books

Link to article here.

Let this be a warning to Americans, when private toll roads go belly up, they come to the taxpayer to bail them out. The devil is in the details of each contract, and in Texas, no elected official has any oversight over these public private partnerships. In fact, the details are kept secret from the public until AFTER the contract is signed.

Spain looks for way to keep motorway firms' debt off its books
By Sonya Dowsett
July 17, 2014

MADRID, July 17 (Reuters) - Creditors of a bankrupt Spanish motorway business will meet on Friday to decide whether to liquidate it, piling pressure on the government to come up with a way to avoid billions of debt from nine failed toll road companies ending up on its books.

After more than a year of negotiations between ministries, banks and construction companies, the government has yet to find a way of saving the motorway businesses without debt of over 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) hitting its finances.

Spain wants to minimise the effect of any rescue on Europe-agreed deficit targets as it negotiates the politically difficult task of bailing out private sector operators with taxpayers' money just two years after sinking over 40 billion euros into the country's failed banks.

If the creditors of the AP-36, a toll road owned by Ferrovial and Sacyr, reject a viability plan put forward by its owners, the business will go into liquidation and under Spanish law the government will have to pay its debts of around 500 million euros.

Others could follow suit, with banks holding debt linked to failed motorway companies of around 3.9 billion euros, with a further 470 million of debt with builders.

The maximum hit for the deficit would be 3 billion euros, a government source said.

"This long, drawn-out uncertainty is terrible. The problem is not getting fixed and it won't solve itself," said a source at one of the motorway owners.

"It's a case of saving them, or letting them fall. It's that simple. Someone will have to make the decision."

Spain has pledged to reduce its public deficit to about 3 percent of GDP by 2016, implying some 35 billion euros will have to be found in the three years from end-2013 to end-2016 to meet the target. The deficit was 6.6 percent in 2013, and so a hit of 3 billion euros would make a challenging task even harder.

Ferrovial and Sacyr declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Public Works also declined to comment on the situation beyond saying the government was still working on a solution. Seopan, the industry body that is negotiating with the government on behalf of the builders, declined to comment too.

Traffic on the nine toll roads, most of which connect the capital Madrid to outlying towns, has failed to reach sustainable levels during a recession.

Under Spanish legislation drawn up over 40 years ago, when a private motorway goes bust, the state has to repay owners for the cost of the land and the construction. The government has sought a way of funding its obligations through public debt rather than through the deficit.

Earlier this year, it proposed creating a holding company for the assets of the nine motorways while forcing a 50 percent haircut on the banks and paying the remaining debt, of around 2.3 billion euros, with a 30-year bond with a coupon of 1 percent plus a variable component dependent on the traffic on the roads.

But banks rejected this because they said the coupon on the bond was too low, as it compares with interest payments of over 5 percent on the government bond of this maturity.

"The coupon is so low, it would be like taking another cut on top of the one we've already swallowed," said a source at one of the creditor banks.

"We're waiting for some gesture from the government, but there's been nothing," he added.

The government has also had problems convincing the European Commission that such a scheme would not constitute state aid, one source with knowledge of the matter said.

The European Commission said it was in contact with Spanish authorities regarding plans to set up a public company to deal with the highways in bankruptcy proceedings, but declined to comment further.

Austin rail proposal draws opponents and a campaign

Link to article here

This is why there’s ‘no money for roads.’ Rail sucks up more taxpayer money than any road project ever could by comparison. Cost per mile to build is outrageous and maintenance cost canabalize the bus system. Bad deal all the way around. They threw in road projects in hopes of getting this $1.4 billion rail plan off the ground and past unsuspecting voters.
Pro-rail campaign off to fast fundraising start
By Ben Wear
Austin American Staesman
July 15, 2014

A political committee formed to support this fall’s probable $1 billion rail-and-roads bond election in Austin has raised $73,245 , more than half of it coming from downtown Austin interest groups.

That sum dwarfs the $669 raised by Our Rail, a committee founded by Scott Morris, a rail activist who opposes the route chosen for the city’s first electric-powered rail line since streetcars ceased operation about 75 years ago. Another faction led by retired high-tech executive Jim Skaggs that opposes building the rail line, no matter its location, has not yet formed a political action committee and thus did not have to file a report Tuesday.

The Austin City Council will decide in August whether to call the bond election. But in June the council unanimously endorsed a staff plan that included $600 million for an “urban rail” line and $400 million for road projects and some studies of potential future road and rail projects. The rail proposal would have a double-tracked line running roughly from Highland Mall in North Austin, through downtown and east on East Riverside Drive to Grove Drive, with 16 stations and four park-and-ride lots.

The city hopes to get a matching amount from the Federal Transit Administration, but the $1.2 billion total of city and federal money would still leave the city short of the estimated $1.4 billion cost of building the entire 9.5 miles.

The Let’s Go Austin political action committee, in a report covering the Jan. 1 to June 30 period, reported 28 donations, or an average of $2,615 per donation. That average was pulled up considerably by two donations for $32,000 and $5,000 from the Downtown Austin Alliance, a nonprofit that advocates for downtown Austin property owners.

The committee has spent $39,176. The bulk of that, $32,000, was a May payment to a Washington, D.C.-based polling firm.

Toll rate comparison by state

Link to article here.

This has some great state by state data. However, the average toll per trip in Texas is far greater than the one listed, with privatized toll projects now charging up to 95 cents/mile to drive in peak hours.

How much do Illinoisans pay in tolls compared to other states?
By Caitlin Wilson  
Reboot Illinois
July 11, 2014

In Illinois, the Illinois State Highway Toll Authority controls the highways that do not receive any federal funding but are paid for through tolls charged of users. Illinois has five roads that fall under that category (four interstates and one non-interstate) run by the Illinois State Highway Toll Authority (ISHTA), including the Ronald Reagan Memorial Tollway (I-88) and the Tri-State Tollway (I-294). The Chicago Skyway is operated by the Skyway Concession Company. There also are toll bridges and tunnels in Illinois. Other states may have multiple tolling authorities, such as California, and some, such as Kansas, have only one tolling authority. Several roads in Texas and northern states such as Minnesota, New York and Michigan are international toll highways connecting the U.S. to Canada and Mexico.

In Illinois, there are 10 total toll roads (including tunnels, bridges, interstates and non-interstates) that comprise nearly 377 miles of road, according to the U.S.Department of Transportation (USDOT). The state’s average median toll payment for passenger vehicles is $2.05, according to information from the National Conference of State Legislatures. This means that Illinoisans themselves pay for the organizational operations and infrastructure upkeep and development of these roads directly, by paying to drive on them, instead of the state receiving money from the U.S. federal government to pay for them.

Illinois is tied for the seventh-highest number of toll roads out of all the states that have any toll ways with Delaware and Oklahoma. Texas has 66 toll roads, the highest of any state, and Ohio, Kansas, Maine, Florida, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Alaska, Iowa and Missouri all have only one. Illinois has the sixth-highest toll way mileage of any state with toll roads. The state with the longest toll way system is Pennsylvania with 630.74 miles and the shortest is Missouri with just over half a mile of toll roads. Illinois has the 18th-highest average median toll for states where information was available. The state with the most expensive average median toll is Alaska at $12.00, and the least was Georgia with a $0.50 average median toll.

The Illinois Tollway, under ISHTA and the office of the Inspector General, runs most of Illinois’ toll roads. According to their website, the fees that users pay to drive on the Illinois Tollway are used to pay for services such as Illinois State Police, I-PASS customer service, and the maintenance of and construction on the roads.

From the Illinois Tollway website:
A promise was made that once the bonds used to build the original 187 miles of the Illinois Tollway were paid off, the roads would become freeways. The promise was well-intentioned, but shortsighted. The Illinois Tollway is a user-fee system and receives no state or federal funds for maintenance and operations, so tolls are necessary…Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “free” road. Without the Illinois Tollway, the state would need to raise the gas tax by about 9 cents a gallon statewide to pay for maintenance and operation of existing Tollway roads – or 11-12 cents a gallon if the tax was only applied to the Tollway’s 12-county service area. To fund the infrastructure improvements included in this capital plan, the state would need to raise the gas tax by more than 20 cents a gallon.

The I-PASS and E-ZPASS programs allow for users of the Illinois Tollway to drive at a continuous pace without having to stop to pay the tolls in cash. Indicators are attached to car windshields and toll booths keep track of who has driven where when. Drivers are billed for their toll usage later and can receive a fine of $75 for unpaid tolls and further penalties of $20 if fines continue to go unpaid, according to the Illinois Tollway website. Generally, pass users must drive through specific lanes to keep the flow of traffic moving.

There are a total of 5,880.66 miles of toll roads throughout the United States, most of which are highways and/or bridges and tunnels operated by the transportation authorities of the states through which they run, some of which are part of the national interstate system. Twenty-two states do not have any toll highways (though some of those have toll bridges or tunnels), including Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin and Kentucky. Thirty-one states (including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have highway tolls.)

U.S. toll road information by state:
Alabama: roads: 4, miles: 16.25, average median toll: N/A
Alaska: roads: 1, miles: 1.72, average median toll: $12.00
California: roads: 18, miles: 170.15, average median toll: $4.79
Colorado: roads: 4, miles: 84, average median toll: $1.63
Delaware: roads: 10, miles: 60.22, average median toll: $3.06
Florida: roads: 40, miles: 57.32, average median toll: $3.93
Georgia: roads: 1, miles: 6.2, average median toll: $0.50
Illinois: roads: 10, miles: 376.72, average median toll: $2.05
Indiana: roads: 3, miles: 158.15, average median toll: $4.00
Iowa: roads: 1, miles: 0.6, average median toll: N/A
Kansas: roads: 1, miles: 236, average median toll: $5.53
Louisiana: roads: 5, miles: 35.6, average median toll: $5.35
Maryland: roads: 9, miles: 66, average median toll: $3.94
Massachusetts: roads: 4, miles: 142.04, average median toll: $4.30
Maine: roads: 1, miles: 108.18, average median toll: $1.50
Michigan: roads: 7, miles: 12.26, average median toll: $2.56
Minnesota: roads: 3, miles: 16.3, average median toll: $4.13
Missouri: roads: 1, miles: 0.51, average median toll: N/A
Nebraska: roads: 3, miles: 1.66, average median toll: $1.00
New Hampshire: roads: 4, miles: 151.1, average median toll: $1.18
New Jersey: roads: 27, miles: 405.44, average median toll: $4.48
New York: roads: 43, miles: 618.56, average median toll: $4.06
North Carolina: roads: 1, miles: 12.6, average median toll: $0.78
Ohio: roads: 1, miles: 241.2, average median toll: $8.50
Oklahoma: roads: 10, miles: 604.9, average median toll: $2.13
Oregon: roads: 2, miles: 1.62, average median toll: N/A
Pennsylvania: roads: 16, miles: 630.74, average median toll: $8.19
Rhode Island: roads: 1, miles: 2.2, average median toll: $1.42
South Carolina:  roads: 2, miles: 23.5, average median toll: N/A
Texas: roads: 66, miles: 524.25, average median toll: $1.12
Utah: roads: 2, miles: 62.9, average median toll: $0.63
Vermont: roads: 3, miles: 11.9, average median toll: N/A
Virginia: roads: 9, miles: 78.74, average median toll: $1.99
Washington: roads: 2, miles: 2.46, average median toll: $4.16
West Virginia: roads: 3, miles: 87.9, average median toll: $1.20

Missouri rejects sales tax hike for roads

Link to article here.

This article says some Missourians would have been fine with a gas tax increase, but not this proposed sales tax. There's a natural tie-in to funding roads from users of the roads through a gas tax, but politicians don't want to be seen as raising gas tax, so they proposed a sales tax instead and threw in a bunch of transit projects (rail, bike trails, etc.). Elected officials keep dancing around the subject and digging themselves in deeper - adjust the gas tax to properly fund our highway system and stop trying to make transit advocates happy by endless compromises that get us nowhere toward fixing gridlock.

Missouri transportation tax proposal soundly defeated
August 06, 2014  •  By Virginia Young
St. Louis Post Dispatch

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters delivered a resounding defeat Tuesday to a proposed statewide sales tax that would have raised billions of dollars to build roads, bridges and other transportation projects.

In unofficial returns, Constitutional Amendment 7 was rejected by nearly 59 percent of voters. It would have raised the sales tax by three-quarters of a penny per dollar spent.

Several opponents interviewed at the polls in St. Louis County criticized as “regressive” a sales tax they said would have a disproportionate impact on low-income households. Most complained that a tax on goods other than fuel made little sense.

“It’s unfair to have a sales tax,” Robert Kirby said as he exited the Sunset Hills Community Center after voting with his wife, Carole. “I don’t have a problem with a gas tax. Add 10 cents a gallon for gas and 20 cents a gallon for diesel. That’s fair.”

“But we don’t think it’s fair not to tax the truck drivers” crossing the state on interstate highways, his wife added.

Supporters said they couldn’t overcome Missourians’ anti-tax sentiment.

“Missourians, they don’t like tax increases, they don’t want to pay more, no matter what the situation is,” said Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City and the sponsor of the proposal. Kehoe, who watched the returns in downtown St. Louis with business leaders, said the problem remained, “so we’ll have to go back to the drawing board.”

Representatives of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission scheduled a news conference for this morning on what happens next. In a statement late Tuesday, Chairman Stephen Miller said the commission was “very disappointed in the result, but the people have spoken and we respect that.”

Officials had hoped to generate about $5.4 billion over 10 years to pay for hundreds of projects, including the reconstruction and widening of Interstate 70 from Independence to Wentzville.

Opponents complained that the trucking industry does most of the damage to the roads but would have paid little for repairs. They noted that the Legislature passed a special sales tax exemption for tractor-trailers in 2012. Also, Amendment 7 would have barred fuel tax increases for 10 years.

Tom Shrout, a spokesman for opponents, said the critics “kind of stumbled on to this phrase: Trucks don’t pay. It’s a simple message that resonates with the public.” He said his group would meet Thursday “and talk about next steps.”

Organized as Missourians for Better Transportation Solutions, the opponents ran a shoestring campaign. It reported raising about $27,000 — $10,000 of it from the St. Louis County Municipal League.

The pro-sales tax campaign, Missourians for Safe Roads & New Jobs Inc., raised more than $4 million. Much of it came from contractors, labor unions, engineers, trucking companies and others that stood to gain.

Department of Transportation officials have said that Missouri cannot continue to rely on the fuel tax because its proceeds drop as drivers turn to energy-efficient cars or drive less. MoDOT’s construction budget is projected to decline to $325 million in 2017, the lowest since 1992. It currently stands at about $700 million.

Without more cash, the state soon won’t be able to afford highway maintenance, much less new construction, officials say.

While the bulk of the new money would have gone toward roads and bridges, MoDOT’s project list also set aside funds for railroads, airports, sidewalks, bike paths and bus systems.

The pro-sales tax campaign stressed that the money would be used for a specific list of safety projects; that persuaded some voters.

“We need it as long as it goes to improve the roads,” said Debra Seals, of Normandy. “At least we know where it’s going.”

Critics said Amendment 7 didn’t do enough for alternate modes of transportation, and the sales tax would have been too high.

Though groceries and prescription drugs would have been exempt, the overall sales tax rate would have climbed to around 10 or 11 percent in some areas.

The state rate would have hit 4.975 percent, up from 4.225 percent. Local sales taxes are levied on top of that.

“The rates are getting high enough that it tends to drive people to the Internet” to shop,” said Tim Fischesser, executive director of the St. Louis County Municipal League, which opposed the measure. “Everybody that has sales taxes ends up losing, even though MoDOT would gain.”

Transportation officials have been working for more than a decade to find more money. In 2002, voters defeated a proposed $483 million sales and fuel tax increase.

“There is no perfect solution,” said Kehoe, the sponsor. He said Amendment 7 was crafted around polling that showed a sales tax was most likely to pass at the polls. He said the fuel tax would have to be raised 20 to 25 cents per gallon to generate the money needed.

So Kehoe sponsored Amendment 7 and got legislators to put it on the ballot. In bipartisan votes, the Senate approved it 22-10, and the House 105-43.

But Gov. Jay Nixon threw backers a curve. First, he moved the election to the August primary instead of the Nov. 4 general election, a move that gave supporters only 60 days to devise a project list and campaign.

MoDOT hurriedly assembled the list, based on regional planning groups’ priorities. Major St. Louis-area projects included $350 million to improve Interstate 270 between Lindbergh Boulevard and Highway 367, and $200 million for Interstate 70 between Natural Bridge and Hanley roads.

Then, in early June, Nixon came out against the amendment, saying it would “fall disproportionately on Missouri’s working families and seniors by increasing the cost of everyday necessities like diapers and over-the-counter medication while giving the heaviest users of our roads a free pass.”

Kehoe said that Nixon had “never engaged” on the highway funding issue.

“Missouri has 32,000 miles of roads and 10,400 bridges,” Kehoe said. “When people start seeing bridges close, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, we do have a problem."

Link to article here.

It's an outrage that bike and hike trails trolleys and other transit projects would be deceptively put on the ballot when voters think they're approving a tax hike for road projects.

Missouri Puts Transportation Funding Measure On Ballot
Missouri transportation funding ballot initiative would raise taxes by $5 billion and ban tolling statewide.
July 14, 2014

Voters in the Show Me State will be asked next month whether they support a $5 billion sales tax hike to pay for the Missouri Department of Transportation's wish list of spending priorities, including road maintenance as well as a long list of projects unrelated to driving. The funding language will be added to the state constitution if a simple majority of voters approve it on the August 5 primary election ballot.

The proposal would raise the state's sales tax by 0.75 percent for the next ten years, mandating that the funds be spent only on transportation. Although the ballot language highlights the money going to "state and local highways, bridges and transportation projects" it does not clearly point out that the list of priorities includes nature trails, trolleys, bus terminals, bicycle lanes and airports. If it passes, the tax would automatically appear again on the ballot for reauthorization by a majority vote in the year 2024 and every ten years thereafter.

According to the state funding priority list, the majority of funds would go toward resurfacing and repairing bridges and roads, but very little extra capacity would be added to the road network. In the central region, for instance, Jefferson City would add lanes to Route 53 for $17 million. Route 50 would receive new lanes from California to Tipton at a cost of $91 million. Route 63 would see extra lanes in Rolla for $11 million.

In the central region, every transit project would receive $5.4 million to expand service hours. On top of this, Boone County would receive $10.5 million will add two hours to bus service hours. At a cost of $8 million, Jefferson City will get four more bus hours, and the Amtrak station will get $5 million for renovations. Another $5 million would improve Amtrak rail service in Osage.

Kansas City would spend $124 million on streetcars, and $24 million on bicycle paths, and $35 million for other bicycle projects. Buses would receive $85 million. St. Louis Mayor Francis G. Slay (D) praised the tax hike plan precisely because it would lavish millions on his city's non-motoring priorities.

"For the first time ever, the state would support major funding not just for highways and bridges but also for special transportation needs and opportunities in cities like ours," Slay wrote.

If the measure is approved, toll roads would be banned from Missouri for ten years or more.

"The state highways and transportation commission shall not authorize, own or operate a toll highway or toll bridge on a state highway or bridge while the sales and use tax authorized by this section is in effect," Proposition 7 states. "A county or municipality shall not authorize, own or operate a toll highway or toll bridge on any highway or bridge under its jurisdiction while the sales and use tax authorized by this section is in effect."

A copy of the ballot measure is available in a 1.8mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: Proposition 7 (State of Missouri, 7/13/2014)

Cintra's hijack of I-635 in Dallas to cost commuters up to $24/day

Link to article here.

Cintra’s spokesperson has lost their minds if they think paying up to 95 cents a mile, eventually $24/day roundtrip, in tolls is a ‘hit’ with North Texas drivers. The article says the 13-mile commute will cost about $7, but not during peak hours. The published toll rate will be up to 95 cents a mile depending on the time of day and level of congestion on the lanes, so the cost could be up to $12 one-way.

No one in their right mind signs-up to fork over that kind of money on a daily basis unless they’re desperate or independently wealthy. In fact, drivers are flocking to the side roads when they see the toll rate jacked-up in real time as they’re driving to work. They may get time reliability, but they can’t get price reliability so they can’t exit fast enough. Long-term this thing is a nightmare, and those who can avoid living or working in that area will do so.

More Toll Lanes To Open Along I-35E This Weekend
By BJ Austin & Krystina Martinez
July 10, 2014

Dia Kuykendall, the director of corporate affairs for LBJ Infrastructure Group, says the new, elevated segment will lift drivers over the chronically congested I-35E/I-635 interchange and set them down at I-35 and Loop 12. The return trip will quicken the commute from Loop 12 north to eastbound 635/LBJ. The grand opening price range is 65 cents to $1.65 for the 3.6-mile stretch.

Opposing Op/Ed columns on tolls in San Antonio - you decide

The San Antonio Express-News published a pro-toll and anti-toll Op/Ed. Below are the columns that appeared July 11, 2014. Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom was asked to write the anti-toll position. The pro-toll lobby group, the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association, wrote the pro-toll column.

Toll is a user fee, not a tax
By Patrick Jones
Op/Ed - July 11, 2014
San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO — As San Antonio moves closer to tolled lanes on U.S. 281, drivers are about to learn why tolling is an increasingly popular option across Texas and in 35 states.
When you just can't afford to be stuck in traffic, managed lanes are a proven way to beat the bumper-to-bumper congestion that has become a day-to-day reality for too many San Antonians.
The saga of U.S. 281 goes back many years, and over that time, the region's traffic problems have grown into a full-fledged crisis.

Toll foes want public vote in North Carolina on I-77

Link to article here.

Toll lanes foe wants voters to decide
By Dale Gowing | Thursday, July 10, 2014
Mooresville Tribune

Insisting that the public doesn’t want toll lanes on I-77 or any other North Carolina interstates, N.C. Rep. Robert Brawley of Mooresville is hoping to convince the General Assembly to let voters decide the issue.

Brawley, a Republican, has introduced legislation calling for a statewide November ballot referendum about toll roads and dedicated toll lanes. House bill 1274, if passed, would require the N.C. Department of Transportation to suspend its planning for building high-occupancy toll lanes on I-77 at least until the referendum.

The bill seeks a referendum that would ask N.C. voters to vote for or against this statement: "No new toll or fee shall be imposed nor any existing toll increased for the use of any North Carolina road or highway."

Explained Brawley, one of Raleigh’s biggest critics of tolling, “It is time we actually let the people be heard, so I am asking the General Assembly to put toll roads on the ballot this fall.

“If the public and other legislators get behind it, (a referendum) could happen. If we do not there will be toll roads and big losses for Republicans this fall.”

The General Assembly has until the third week of August to add or delete items from statewide ballots.

Brawley’s bill was introduced July 3 and is currently resting with the House Ways and Means Committee. “I’m sure there will be talk about how (this referendum) cannot be done, but the majority of people in our area are strongly against toll roads and they want to be heard,” he told the Tribune in an email Thursday.

“So I ask my fellow legislators for their support in giving the citizens of North Carolina a chance to be heard."

In earlier emailed comments to media outlets Thursday, Brawley included a letter from a Lake Norman-area resident to N.C. Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius, who supports allowing DOT to move ahead with plans for building toll lanes on I-77 between Mooresville and Charlotte.

“It is beyond me to imagine how any of our representatives -- including mayors, commissioners, Rep. Tillis, Rep. Jeter and yourself -- think this is good for our area,” the resident said in her letter.

“You told me over a year ago … that the tolls would capture the north-to-south traffic that is avoiding the high NC gas tax. As I and many others see it, the ‘lake area’ will be negatively impacted.

“Everyone says cavalierly that (motorists) have the option to pay. As I see the ingresses and egresses I have no option ‘to’ pay. If it is in fact being done to collect from a larger market, then widen the area between (exits) 23 and 30 and let us enjoy our beautiful area and quality of life.

“There are some of us who still have to get to the grocery, kids to school, doctors, hospital, etc. How hubris of the DOT to say that ‘soccer moms’ will be willing to pay! We (and there are many of us) are still looking toward a different outcome.”

Tall lane foes want the state to widen I-77 with general purpose lanes instead of toll lanes between Mooresville and Charlotte.

DOT maintains there would be no funding for general purpose lanes for at least 20 years, while building toll lanes would be done cheaper and sooner – likely starting in 2015 -- through a public-private partnership. Building the toll lanes would convert existing carpool lanes, and would be free for cars with three or more passengers, emergency vehicles, buses and motorcycles.

The state expects to finalize its agreement by the end of the month with the Spanish company Cintra Infrastructures to build and operate the toll lanes. North Carolina would contribute $88 million toward the $655 million project, with Cintra receiving all toll money.

Foes of HOT lanes argue that the lanes will do little to relieve congestion on the interstate and could ultimately cost the state millions if the private contractor defaults or toll revenues don’t meet a certain level. One anti-toll lanes group, called Widen I-77, argues that the state has sufficient funds now to build more general purpose lanes.

In late June, Tarte said he would ask NCDOT for a review of the Cintra contract but doesn’t expect that to delay the project.

Republican Sen. David Curtis of Denver, who represents southern Iredell, has said he likes the idea of a DOT review of the Cintra contract but doesn’t wish to see the project delayed too long.

“We can’t wait 20 years,” Curtis said in late June. “Traffic on I-77 is getting worse and worse, and in five, ten or 15 years it’s going to be a nightmare. We’ve got to do something now. I realize a lot of people are very upset and just want three (general purpose) lanes now, but there’s just no money for that.”

Public meeting
The anti-toll roads group Widen I-77 will hold a public meeting July 24 in Cornelius, where members will discuss the project and answer questions. It’s a 7 p.m. at Cornelius Town Hall.

Moodys: SH 130 Toll Road in 'Technical Default'

Link to article here.

Moodys: SH 130 Toll Road in 'Technical Default'
By Jim Forsyth
WOAI News Radio
Friday, July 11, 2014

  Moody's Investment Service today declared the southern half of the State Highway 130 toll road to be in 'technical default,' saying it rescheduled rather than made a June 30 payment on it's $1.1 billion debt, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.

  "By executing a waiver agreement, we understand that the project is not in legal default," according to a Moody's investor note.  "However, Moody's view is that the failure to meet the full payment that was originally scheduled for June 30, 2014 constitutes a default under Moody's definition."

Larson Grills TxDOT as Streetcar Vote Looks More Likely

Link to article here.

Larson Grills TxDOT as Streetcar Vote Looks More Likely
By Jim Forsyth
July 8, 2014

  As State Rep Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio) is contemplating an effort to yank the state's $92 million share of funding for the controversial downtown streetcar plan, a public vote on the streetcar is becoming more likely, with four City Council members now bucking the City Attorney and calling for a vote on the issue, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.

  Larson ripped into members of the Texas Transportation Commission over it's willingness to 'enable' the streetcar construction by agreeing to a bizarre 'money swap' with Bexar County.

Stop light onslaught proposed for 281 draws record crowd

Link to article here.

Stop light onslaught proposed for 281 draws record crowd
By Terri Hall
July 10, 2014

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) struck a nerve yesterday, and it wasn’t pretty. Nearly 300 angry residents of the Bulverde-Spring Branch area showed up for what they thought would be a public meeting on the fate of US 281, only to be greeted with a standing room only venue stuffed with more people than the little library could handle and a bunch of aerial maps and consultants who couldn’t or wouldn’t answer their questions. No formal presentation was made by TxDOT to explain what the plan entailed. Attendees were expected to piece everything together on their own and know what to ask in order to get properly informed. The line to get in was wrapped around the room and out the door where attendees waited up to 20 minutes just to enter. No one anticipated the record attendance.

Collin County in toll rebellion over US-75

Read letter here.

Link to article here.

Collin leaders to TxDOT: Don’t toll carpool lanes on 75
By Brandon Formby
Dallas Morning News
July 10, 2014

The Texas Department of Transportation’s plans to turn Central Expressway carpool lanes into tolled express lanes just got some serious organized opposition. Several state lawmakers and Collin County commissioners co-authored a letter yesterday that told new TxDOT executive director Joe Weber that Collin County residents are essentially feeling toll fatigue. Not surprising since the county’s three other major thoroughfares (Dallas North Tollway, President George Bush Turnpike, Sam Rayburn Tollway) are completely tolled.

“There is a strong feeling in our communities that they are already paying too much for travel upon our roadways due to tolling of the three major highway corridors in Collin County,” the letter says.

P3 woes in India

Link to article here.

Economic Survey: Reduce tariff if toll road operators don’t deliver
Times of India
July 10, 2014

NEW DELHI: In a move to ensure that toll roads are maintained well and expanded to meet the growing traffic, the latest Economic Survey has recommended to the government to examine whether the contract can provide for "reduced tariff" if the operator fails to meet the promised services.

The report has recommended that international practices such as 'traffic trigger' and 're-equilibrium discount' could be examined to address some of the problems faced in the sector. A 'traffic trigger' clause in the contract implies that once a certain volume of traffic is reached, the concessionaire is obligated to increase the capacity so that minimum level of service is maintained. The 're-equilibrium discount' is used to reduce tariff when performance parameters are not met. In such case a table of discounts is pre-defined in the contract.

Considering the major problem in the execution of road projects on public-private partnership (PPP) mode, the Survey has recommended an alternative strategy. It said government agencies can award projects as engineering contracts to build the asset in which the construction company is protected from political and regulatory risks. In such cases, the government bodies would bear the cost of construction.

Soon after the construction is over, a second contract can be given out to a private firm to toll the asset for one year and produce data about present levels of toll revenue. "This could set the stage for a long-term, say contract combining tolling and maintenance. These projects would be able to absorb a high level of long-term bond-market financing, and thus yield low tolls," the Survey said.

It said these firms would generate cash flows for the government which would offset the original expenditure for constructing the asset.

For all infrastructure sectors, the Survey has said lack of consistency in policies needs to be addressed urgently apart from removing procedural bottlenecks. "Removing procedural bottlenecks, improving governance, and above all maintaining consistency in government infrastructure policies are some issues that need to be urgently addressed," the report said.

The document highlighted how as many as 110 out of 239 central sector infrastructure projects, each costing Rs 1,000 crore or above, have reported delays, which range up to 26 months in cases of steel, coal, power and petroleum projects.

The total original cost of implementation of these projects was about Rs 7.4 lakh crore and their anticipated completion cost is likely to be Rs 8.98 lakh crore, implying an overall cost overrun by 21.3%, it said.

The Survey mentioned that while growth in power and fertilizers segments was higher, sectors like coal, steel, cement and refinery witnessed lower growth.

How does Perry rate on transportation?

Link to article here.

Grading Rick Perry on Transportation
Texas Monthly
July 2014

Rick Perry has repeatedly sought to address transportation in Texas during his time as governor, but there is no other issue on which he has been so reliably thwarted. Next time you’re stuck in a traffic jam, pat yourself on the back. The transportation system we have in Texas today may not be good, but it’s exactly what we’ve asked for as voters.

The problems—the sprawling congestion, the crumbling highways—were all predicted. They were also predictable, given the various trends over the past ten or fifteen years: the soaring population, the growth in industries such as energy and manufacturing, the stagnant revenue streams, the political torpor. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, over the past 25 years, Texas’s population has grown by 57 percent, and overall road use has nearly doubled. State road capacity, however, has grown by only 8 percent during that time.

Perry has called for greater investment in infrastructure since his first year as governor, when he signed a measure designed to create the Texas Mobility Fund, which had the authority to issue bonds for highway construction and other transportation projects. It marked a conceptual departure from Texas’s long-standing pay-as-you-go approach to road funding, and voters approved the constitutional amendment in November 2001. Two months later Perry unveiled his master plan. The Trans-Texas Corridor called for the construction of four thousand new miles of toll roads, with high-speed rail, oil and gas pipelines, and utility lines running alongside them. All told, the project would cost about $175 billion. “Nothing is too big for Texas,” he said, “when economic security and quality of life are at stake.”

Republicans and Democrats alike disagreed. They complained about the fees Texans would pay on toll roads, the expansion of state debt, the unprecedented use of eminent domain, and the prospect that a foreign company like Cintra—a Spanish toll road operator—would stand to profit. Faced with the most sustained backlash of his career, Perry amended his hopes for the TTC, scaling them back many times before 2009, when TxDOT quietly abandoned the idea in favor of a more modest, incremental approach. In retrospect, it was true that there were things to dislike about Perry’s sprawling vision for the TTC. On the other hand, it was better than no vision at all, which is effectively what the governor’s critics were proposing as a counteroffer—and which is what we have now.

Since that setback, Perry has narrowed his efforts to focus on transportation funding. He has supported some reasonable proposals, such as ending diversions from the state highway fund. He has also supported some creative responses, such as a measure passed during special session last summer that will, if voters approve a constitutional amendment to this effect in November, allocate a portion of future revenues heading toward the Rainy Day Fund to a different bucket of money dedicated to transportation projects. The amendment is worth supporting, but it won’t solve the funding problem. TxDOT has said that it needs about $4 billion a year just to “maintain current levels of congestion,” and the measure would bring in less than a quarter of that.

Perry’s preference, over the course of last year’s session, was for the state to take on more debt to build roads. That’s not a terrible idea on its face; as the governor has noted, interest rates are low, and Texas’s growth is expected to continue. At the same time, there are reasons to be skeptical about borrowing. Drew Darby, a Republican representative from San Angelo, mentioned one last session during a floor debate: the state has borrowed $17 billion for roads since 2001, and it will ultimately cost $32 billion to retire that debt.

As an alternative, Darby suggested raising the vehicle registration fee for the first time since 1985. That proposal went nowhere after Perry threatened to veto it. The governor has also dismissed the idea of raising the gas tax, which currently stands at 20 cents a gallon. That’s the thirty-eighth-lowest rate in the country, according to the Tax Foundation, and it hasn’t changed since 1991. Hiking it wouldn’t be a long-term solution, because cars are becoming more fuel-efficient, but by the same token, it wouldn’t be a crushing blow to Texas’s consumers either.

Then, too, it’s worth noting that investing in transportation infrastructure shouldn’t be such a hard sell. Left to his own devices, Perry would surely have done more for roads, as he has for economic development, and he deserves credit for championing this issue when so many ankle-biters have scoffed at him for trying. But transportation infrastructure, in a state this size, is not an issue that can be adequately addressed via an executive officer, however ambitious. In a 2001 editorial, the Dallas Morning News noted that the new governor had done well in some respects but suggested that Perry might learn from George W. Bush’s more engaged approach to the Lege: “More stroking here or there could have yielded greater progress on such issues as transportation.” That was good advice. If Perry had taken it, we might not be in this jam.

Quick stats:

Change in population since 1989: 57%

Change in state road capacity since 1989: 8%

Are you paying for toll roads already paid off?

Link to article here.

Are you paying for toll roads already paid off?
May 22, 2012
By Wayne Dolcefino
ABC News 13

HOUSTON -- Do you use the toll roads? Half a million of you do every day and now we have some bad news for you. You may be paying forever, even if the roads were paid off a long time ago.

The next time a politician asks you to vote on something, you might want to get all the fine print in writing. Don't you get sick of broken promises?

It's another morning drive to work, and before this day is over, half a million of you will pay a toll just to get where you need to go.

Doesn't that make you feel like you want to cheer? Well, we really did cheer when the West Belt Tollway opened in 1989. Of course, maybe that's because the girl band The Bangles were playing a live concert on top of the new highway.

Steve Malouf now pays close to $200 a month in tolls.

"Makes me angry, really angry," he said.

Because Steve knows what we found downtown inside a building that looks on the outside like it should be torn down; newspaper accounts of the nasty political fight three decades ago over the idea of selling bonds to build toll roads. Seventy percent of you said OK, but all those cheering people...wonder if they'd be so excited today if they knew they had been scammed?

"You feel scammed?" we asked toll road driver David Sartis.

"Oh sure, of course," he said.

We found this brochure from the early days of the Toll Road Authority, printed just after we OKed building the West Belt and the Hardy Toll Road. The promise was simple: "When both roads combined have covered their costs, the roads will become free public highways."

"What'd you think would happen when we paid the roads off?" we asked Sartis.

"Well, you would think they'd take the toll booths away, right?" he replied.

Well, if you used the toll road today, you already know that didn't happen.

But the promise is there in black and white. They used it get us to vote.

"Well yeah, it does make you wonder well why they aren't free," one toll road driver said.

We've already made back the money we paid to build the roads and then plenty more. Take the Hardy. Toll road construction costs $287 million. We made that back by 2004. You've paid a total in tolls of $617 million.

"You sort of wonder what happened?" we asked another toll road driver.

"Yes," she said.

This stretch of the Sam Houston costs $72 million to build. You know how much you've paid in tolls? $865 million.

"Do you feel cheated?" we asked Malouf.

"Very much so," he said.

"The construction of that road has been paid for 12 times?" we asked Harris County Toll Road Authority Director Peter Key.

"It's one system, it's one system that funds all the needs out there," he said.

I didn't see that in the fine print. Did you? But leave it to politicians to welch on a deal. It happened in September 2001 at a Harris County Commissioners Court meeting, way down on the agenda. Look at H, a bunch of gobbygloop about bond stuff and then "a resolution for pooling of a list of toll road projects as component facilities." Translation: you're going to pay tolls forever.
If you were watching Eyewitness News back in 1983, you heard a prediction that was right on.

"These projects will more than pay for themselves, in fact, have money left over at the end," former County Judge Jon Lindsay said at the time.

"You guys are a cash cow," we told Key.

"This agency does take in a substantially amount of revenue," he replied.

"Take a guess," we asked toll road driver Devon Pedrick.

"I don't know -- $1.5 billion," he said.

"It's actually more than $5 billion," we said.

"Wow," he responded.

"Don't surprise me, fourth largest city in the nation -- sure, captive audience, it's awesome," Malouf said.

So much money has been made, the Toll Road Authority has to give some of its extra cash to Harris County commissioners every years -- nearly $900 million so far, not to pay off debts, but to pay to fix up other roads. So when you pay a toll, you're not just paying for the right to drive on a special road, you are paying to fix up roads for other folks who didn't pay a dime.

"Everybody should pay their own fair share and it seems like just a few of us are paying for what they should be paying for and it's just not right," Sartis said.

During that road party in 1989, The Bangles taught us to 'Walk Like an Egyptian.' Twenty-three years later, 13 Undercover has taught you something else.

"The whole free thing -- never going to happen?" we asked Key.

"From practical standpoint, it's hard to imagine the road going free," he replied.

And do you want to see how much money they've made from you on tolls? Just go to 13 Undercover Interactive, where you can see the evidence of a broken promise. Check out a particular road -- try the Sam Houston Tollway. You'll see the how much we've paid in tolls and how much they've made.

Streetcar funds should go to fix US 281 without tolls

Link to article here.

Streetcar funds should be redirected to expand 281 without tolls
By Terri Hall
July 29, 2014

Undoubtedly, most San Antonians have heard the great news that the city and county have pulled their support for the downtown streetcar plan. Naturally it begs the question, so where will those dollars go now? Anti-toll groups, Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and Texans for Toll-free Highways (TTH) call on the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the city, and county to permanently scrap the street car and use those funds to expand US 281 North (outside Loop 1604 to the county line) without tolls.

TxDOT plans to add 12 stop lights on freeway in Hill Country

Concerned citizens are encouraged to submit comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. until July 19 and to contact appropriate elected officials to respectfully express their displeasure.

Sen. Donna Campbell - (830) 626-0065 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Rep. Doug Miller - (830) 625-1313 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Commissioner Donna Eccleston (north of Hwy 46) - (830) 221-1101 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Commissioner Scott Haag (south of Hwy 46) - (830) 221-1102 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mayor of Bulverde Bill Krawietz & City Council members - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call (830) 438-3612 to reach council members.

Stop light onslaught proposed for 281 draws record crowd
By Terri Hall
July 10, 2014

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) struck a nerve yesterday, and it wasn’t pretty. Nearly 300 angry residents of the Bulverde-Spring Branch area showed up for what they thought would be a public meeting on the fate of US 281, only to be greeted with a standing room only venue stuffed with more people than the little library could handle and a bunch of aerial maps and consultants who couldn’t or wouldn’t answer their questions.

No formal presentation was made by TxDOT to explain what the plan entailed. Attendees were expected to piece everything together on their own and know what to ask in order to get properly informed. The line to get in was wrapped around the room and out the door where attendees waited up to 20 minutes just to enter. No one anticipated the record attendance.

GOP platform retreat from tolls gets noticed by NYT

Link to article here.

We disagree with the characterization by TTI that Abbott's promise to fix Texas roads without raising taxes, fees, or tolls somehow means TxDOT can continue to build toll roads at their current rate. Nice try big money boys, but that doesn't compute. If one more toll road is added once Abbott takes office, that's raising the tax burden, period. We can fix our roads without tolls using existing taxes and the voters will insist on it. It requires getting lawmakers' fingers out of our road taxes and prioritizing existing revenues to fund this core purpose of government - public infrastructure.

A G.O.P. Shift Against Toll Roads in Texas
New York Times
JULY 3, 2014

The Republican state convention drew national headlines last month with candidates and activists staking out hard-line positions on homosexuality and immigration.

Less noticed was a significant shift in the party’s stance on transportation, particularly the state’s reliance on toll roads. In the new platform, Republican delegates removed a provision backing “the legitimate construction of toll roads in Texas” and replaced it with language opposing some aspects of toll projects in Texas, particularly the use of public money to subsidize private entities.

The conservative pushback against toll roads comes as Gov. Rick Perry prepares to leave office after 14 years marked by a sustained push for toll roads and toll lanes. With about 25 toll roads, according to the Texas Department of Transportation, the state has used the projects to stretch limited funds and expand its highway network. Most of the toll roads have opened or been expanded since 2000, the year Mr. Perry took office.

“There is an enormous amount of toll fatigue in Texas,” said Susan Fletcher, a Republican delegate from Collin County who supported the new platform language.

Terri Hall, founder of the anti-toll road group Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, led the effort to change the platform position. To explain why delegates had adopted her proposals with little debate, she pointed to a 41-mile stretch of Highway 130 between Austin and Seguin. The privately run toll road opened in 2012 with lawmakers promoting it as a model for the future. Yet the road has not proved popular with drivers. Last month, Moody’s Investors Service reported that toll revenue had come in far below initial projections.

Senator seeks to dedicate vehicle sales tax to highways

Link to article here.

We have long-supported dedicating the vehicles sales tax to roads, but Nichols' bill does it far too slow to make an appreciable effort to stop the reliance on tolling. Since lawmakers have stolen from our highway funds for decades, it's time they restore it and make restitution...NOW instead of ask Texans to pay $24/day in tolls to get to work. Nichols has never seen a toll road he didn't like - including those propped up with gas taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and guaranteed by the Texas taxpayer. He's part of the problem, not the solution. Until thwre's a provision to keep these funds from being used to build, subsidize, or guarantee toll roads, NO DEAL!

Third Proposal Floated to Pay for Road Construction
By Jim Forsyth
WOAI Radio
June 30, 2014

The head of the Senate Transportation Committee says there is a better way to pay for TxDOT's crushing highway maintenance, repair and construction needs than raising the gas tax or building toll roads, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.

  State Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Lufkin) told the San Antonio Mobility Coalition he will propose a constitutional amendment when lawmakers meet in January to dedicate a large portion of the vehicle sales tax to roads.

Special interests lobby to rip-off taxpayers with P3s

Link to article here.

Big money's optimism is certainly warranted since they structure every deal to fleece the taxpayer and grant themselves government-sanctioned monopolies. Government is complicit in the scheme as the big money greases their wheels...our politicians are supposed to be safeguarding the public interest yet their fiduciary duty is nowhere to be found among the graft.

Big-Money Optimism but Many Unanswered Questions About Private Infrastructure Investment
By Tom Curry
Roll Call
June 24, 2014

Senate Finance Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden spoke for many transportation officials when he said recently, “There are hundreds of billions of dollars in private capital sitting on the American sidelines. Surely some of that can be invested in American infrastructure.”

Probably no topic is hotter right now in the public infrastructure world than private-public partnerships, which aim to entice the owners of those hundreds of billions of dollars of private capital to invest in rebuilding and expanding the nation’s highways, ports and bridges.

Americans to be taxed by the mile

Link to article and to view the video go here.

The government has plans to tax Americans for every mile they drive.
Daily Sheeple
June 22, 2014

This is about more than just generating revenue or saving the planet from all of those “greenhouse gases”.

This is part of the Agenda 21 lot to corral people in one place. It is to discourage people from living outside the city and commuting to work. It is a plan that will force many to rely on public transportation. Lots of people in a small area are far easier to control than people scattered about in wide open spaces.