What’s the best bridge between the state’s available funds and its growing mobility needs? If you said “thousands of miles of privately funded gray and whale-wide toll roads,” you’ve probably been sipping the Texas Transportation Commission’s kool-aid. It’s hard not to, when their arguments are so concentrated and sugared-over (tolls — the answer to all petro-dependent ailments), and with so many free-marketeers in line for some moneymaking … Including losing road-construction companies whose bids are not selected, according to the December 15 Texas Observer. Thanks to a 2003 transportation bill touted as encouraging competition, the Texas Department of Transportation has paid roughly $4.3 million to rejectees so far, with another $10 million in “consolation stipends” on the docket.
Maybe you see the estimated $36-billion Trans-Texas-Corridor and selling of public infrastructure as an outgrowth of the Tragedy of the Commons — the theory that unrestricted, free use of a common, finite resource (i.e. Interstate 35 is only so wide and so resistant to semi-truck loads) leads to social problems (like traffic congestion). How do you then justify the state’s non-compete agreements with companies like Cintra-Zachry, that ask TxDOT to ignore toll-free highway improvements and capacity building nearby so as to maximize profit on the $10 billion the private vendor paid? (It’s commonly believed that neglecting those public roads would be tragic.)
Cintra-Zachry and TxDOT reached an agreement in December to build the first leg of the TTC, a 300-mile toll road from east San Antonio to Dallas, to be finished by 2014. Final decisions on the full TTC route is a work-in-progress, and thanks to a 1,600-page thicket of projections about its cost, design, and impact released in September, not even the anti-regulation short-sleevers at the Texas Public Policy Foundation know what’s in the Master Development Plan.
For 2007, expect more push and pull about the ways private companies cover their for-pay assets (private concessions, eminent domain invoked on a private company’s behalf, and all the crazy clauses buried in state bills that make TxDOT Cintra-Zachry’s subject, like being required to build connectors to the TTC possibly using public funds, the Texas Observer reports).