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TxDOT secretly signed toll concession at the height of the moratorium furore



The Austin Statesman newspaper got an amazing scoop this morning (Mar 29). A week ago at the very height of the gathering political storm over toll concessions in the state legislature, and just as veto-proof majorities were being registered for moratorium bills, Texas DOT (TxDOT) quietly signed the final concession agreement document for SH130/5&6 with Cintra Zachry.

Newsworthy? You better believe it.

But out of TxDOT, no press release, no statement, nothing.

TxDOT's website on Comprehensive Development Agreements still said "Negotiations Ongoing" in the box under date signed. Now it has under date signed: Mar 22, 2007. That's all there is by way of public acknowledgment.


This is 65km (40mi) of 2x2 lane tollroad from the southeast outskirts of the Austin area running south to I-10 in Seguin, a bit outside San Antonio. It is designed to become part of Trans Texas Corridor 35 providing a parallel route to I-35 but avoiding the traffic that highway generates through going through the middle of every city along the way. It joins to its north 79km (49mi) of SH130 called segments 1-4 going as far north as Georgetown already opened or well into construction as a publicly owned toll business being financed and operated by TxDOT.

Nichols says done deal, we're screwed for 50 years

Senator Robert Nichols (Repub) author of the moratorium bills HB2772/SB1267 accepts the signing last week as "a done deal". And, he says, any errors in it cannot be fixed "for half a century" - great rhetoric to rally the indignant but overlooking Article 14 titled TxDOT Changes, Developer Changes, Directive Letters which spells out procedures for either party to initiate changes in the terms of the contract, and provisions elsewhere under Relief and Compensation Events (Article 13) and Dispute Resolution (Article 17).

Nichols other objection is to the contract stipulation that in the case of the state terminating the concession before its expiry the state pay the fair market value of the remaining concession.

But he added: "It's a good example of why we just can't delay reform in this arena. You're trying to catch a runaway train."

COMMENT: The SH130 5 & 6 concession is a good one for the people of Texas. Unlike many who comment we've taken the trouble to read the concession, all 192 pages plus addenda called exhibits. It's a good agreement and advances an important project to provide an alternate highway to I-35 in Texas's most important transport corridor San Antonio/Austin/Dallas.

But to sign the contract, and to sign it secretly, just when the moratorium movement is registering its political strength is amazing. It is an expression of profound contempt for the legislators.

Now of course it can well be argued that by their behavior the legislators very much deserve contempt. We think they do - for their wild, irresponsibly ignorant and erroneous statements about these concessions. They have behaved like a bunch of immature and emotional amateurs, kids playing legislator in a high school civics lesson. It has been a pathetic spectacle of government at its very worst if only because those screaming most loudly against the concession program now were the very same people who voted the enabling legislation just a couple of years ago.

In terms of politics TxDOT's secret signing has all the finesse of William H Vanderbilt's infamous 1882 retort "The public be damned" to reporter Charles Dresser in an interview given frontpage treatment in the Chicago Tribune, and which was used to stigmatize the railroad "robber barons" for decades thereafter. This is TxDOT saying "The legislature be damned."

Does TxDOT have a death wish?




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