The Texas Transportation Commission is proposing a new rule designed to convince private companies to jump into the financially perilous field of building toll roads, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The proposal will allow toll road builders to be reimbursed for the 'projected' use of the toll roads. In fact, the proposal reads 'a dollar amount that is tied to a measure of actual or projected use of the highway.'
That means, according to Terri Hall of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, an anti toll group, that road builders would be paid by the state for any traffic volumes which fall below what the toll road builders 'projected' that the toll payments would be.
She says that is like telling your boss that you 'project' that your sales will triple this year, and then expecting to be paid a commission based on those projected sales.
She says there is one reason why the Texas Transportation Commission is taking this step...that the toll road business model, called a Comprehensive Development Agreement, is failing.
"We all know that state highway 130 is failing," Hall said. "Moody's has downgraded it's bond rating by four steps."
Under a CDG, a private company, under a concession from the state, builds the toll road and then collects the tolls, with the expectation that over the long term agreement, generally fifty years, the tolls will exceed the cost of building and maintaining the highway, leading to profit for the bondholders.
But Hall cites numerous examples in and out of Texas where toll roads are failing and are turning to the taxpayers for a bailout.
"They are proposing putting the entire Texas taxpayer funding highway construction fund on the hook for the losses of these private toll companies," Hall said, pointing out that this will require taxpayers to pay for toll roads which they have chosen not to drive on.
Hall says if State Highway 130, which runs mainly through open country and is an alternative to the universally reviled and always congested Interstate 35 can't succeed, what chance is there that toll lanes on US 281, where motorists could simply jump onto nearby residential streets to avoid tolls, will succeed.
The State Highway 130 Concessions Corporation says its traffic is down because projections were made in 2006, at the height of the pre-recession boom. Toll road officials stress they believe that as the economy rebounds, so will traffic on the road.
She also points out that the Legislature declined to approve this proposal in the recent session, so the Transportation Commission is seeking to use it's rule making power to essentially override the Legislature.
"This is the most expensive way to fund roads ever conceived," she said. "It puts the private interests above the public interest and places special interests in the driver seat with regard to public road policy."
Hall says public comment on the proposal is being accepted through Monday at 5PM at: firstname.lastname@example.org.