No new public-private toll projects, Texas lawmakers say

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By Todd Dills

The Texas House, in an amendment to a larger transportation bill, voted May 1 to place a moratorium on new public-private toll road projects.

The amendment to HB1892 was aimed at comprehensive design-construct contracts that have attracted hefty attention from high-profile foreign investors, including the Spanish firm Cintra, currently part of the consortium operating the Indiana Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway with 75- and 99-year leases, respectively.

The amendment also mandates study into “the public policy implications” of “selling an existing and operating toll project to a private entity,” as well as entering into agreements to design and build toll roads with the same private entities that will be able to collect toll revenue at a profit. Such a study must be finished by Dec. 1, 2008, the amendment said.

If not vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, a staunch public-private proponent, the moratorium effectively would secure for counties first-option authority for the next phase of the Trans-Texas Corridor, including its final design and building.

Cintra and Zachry Construction, based in San Antonio, already have contracted to build and operate, at a profit, the southern 40 miles of Highway 130 from Austin to Seguin, an I-35 alternate, in addition to various projects around Dallas-Fort Worth.

Trans-Texas Corridor watchdog groups proclaimed victory in the voting. The Senate version of the bill passed on a 27-4 vote April 27, and the House 139-1.