Watson puts forth a dark theory
Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman
I’d heard this theory bobbing around
the local transportation scene. Today,
state Sen. Kirk Watson put it out there
from the dais of a legislative committee
It goes like this: TxDOT promised
Austin leaders about $900 million last
fall for a five-road tollway plan to get
them to approve the $1.45 billion plan.
With that promise in hand, the Capital
Area Metropolitan Planning Organization
board put those tollways into what is
called the Transportation Improvement
Plan, or TIP. You can’t build a road
unless it’s in that TIP, and you can’t
build it as a tollway unless it’s in the
plan as a tollway.
Then, just a few weeks later, TxDOT
said, oops, we were wrong and now don’t
know how much (if any) of that money
we’ll be able to give you.
But the tollways are now in the plan.
The plan is agnostic about where the
money to build the roads comes from. It
could, for instance, come from, say,
Spain, rather than the state treasury.
“I believe part of what TxDOT did to
Austin is to get toll roads into the TIP
so you can privatize them,” Watson said,
referring to TxDOT management’s fondness
for reaching long-term leases with
private companies to build and then
operate toll road projects. If they ever
try to do that, however, Watson, who is
chairman of the CAMPO board, said he’d
make sure the roads came out of the TIP
before they can.
Watson made the comments at a joint
hearing of the Senate committees that
oversee the state budget and
A pretty strong allegation, to be
sure. TxDOT officials, including
executive director Amadeo Saenz and
Texas Transportation Commisison members
Hope Andrade and Ted Houghton were
sitting there when Watson said this.
Houghton had just been talking about how
there 87 projects around the state that
might be ripe for privatization,
including some in Austin.
The TxDOT folks didn’t respond
directly to the Machiavillian charge.
“We do indeed want to work with you,”
said Andrade, named last week as interim
chairman of the commission after Ric
Williamson’s death. “We have several
(financing) tools that you gave us, and
we want to use them.”