Lawmakers soften Texas toll-road moratorium

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By Todd Dills

The Texas House voted Thursday, May 17, for a softer version of a moratorium on private toll roads, after Gov. Rick Perry threatened to veto the first one.

The Senate-drafted revision, SB792, exempts more local projects from the moratorium and adjusts requirements for new public-private toll projects, including a longer maximum lease of 50 years.

Perry issued a statement commending the bill. “This is a good compromise that allows projects important to local communities to go forward, recognizing that Texas is a fast-growing state with real congestion concerns that cannot be put on hold,” Perry said.

The revised version retains language mandating a study of “the public policy implications” of “selling an existing and operating toll project to a private entity,” as well as entering into design-and-build contracts with private companies that will profit from toll revenue. The deadline for such a study would be Dec. 1, 2008.

The legislation is aimed at comprehensive design-and-build contracts that have attracted 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.

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 Interstate 35 alternate, in addition to various projects around Dallas-Fort Worth.

The House referred SB792 back to the Senate for agreement, after which it would go to the governor.