The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

19 December 2004

As a matter of fact, I do own this damn road

Congress, says the Constitution, is empowered to establish post offices and post roads. Certainly this particular clause was never intended to give government a monopoly over road-building; there are plenty of private roads to this day, some in rural areas, some right here in Oklahoma City. (Often they're designated by street signs that look like the standard OKC sign, except they have green text on a white background instead of the white-on-green you find on city streets.)

Still, it's been a while since we saw anything like this:

Taking an historic step, the Texas Transportation Commission [Thursday] selected a proposal by Cintra — an international group of engineering, construction and financial firms — as the best value for the state in developing the Oklahoma-to-Mexico portion of the Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC-35).

Cintra proposes to invest $6 billion in a toll road between Dallas and San Antonio by 2010, give the state $1.2 billion for additional transportation improvements between Oklahoma and Mexico, and to extend the corridor into the Lower Rio Grande Valley to Mexico.

"This is an historic change in the way major transportation assets are built and paid for in Texas," said Ric Williamson, chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission. "Private investment, not taxpayer dollars, will be where we look first for funding."

To address the state's need for immediate congestion relief on Interstate 35, the first phase of Cintra's proposal calls for developing $6 billion in new roadways roughly paralleling the interstate by 2010. This includes building 316 miles of new four-lane divided highway from Dallas to San Antonio. According to the proposal, pending environmental clearance and the public-involvement process, construction could begin immediately after right-of-way acquisition.

A five-year period doesn't strike me as particularly "immediate," but it would probably take TxDOT longer than that to make any meaningful improvements on I-35; the Cintra proposal bypasses I-35 entirely and creates a whole new road. In exchange for its billions of investment and maintenance expenditures, Cintra will collect tolls on this road for its first fifty years of operation. (If this sounds like a long time, well, we've been paying tolls on the Turner Turnpike for 51 years now; at least Cintra, unlike the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, is announcing a termination date.)

This isn't Cintra's first toll road in the States — they're a partner in the group which is buying the Chicago Skyway — but this is the first one they're building from scratch.

(Via Chris Lawrence, who advises that this is not part of the southern extension of I-69.)

Posted at 11:49 AM to Driver's Seat

I've never understood those who are so rabidly opposed to toll roads. When Gary Richardson put up "Make this turnpike FREE" signs, all I saw was "Make Oklahoma taxpayers subsidize out-of-state trucking companies."

I pay exactly what I think the Turner Turnpike is worth, when I use it. When I don't use it, I don't pay for it. The same will be true for a Dallas - SA turnpike.

I understand this model doesn't work for every road, but it's ideal for a heavily traveled interstate highway.

Posted by: Dan at 12:49 PM on 19 December 2004

When Gary Richardson put up "Make this turnpike FREE" signs, all I saw was "Make Oklahoma taxpayers subsidize out-of-state trucking companies."

And Lord knows Oklahoma trucking companies never use highways paid for by other states' taxpayers.

There has to be a reasonable limit to this kind of thinking, Dan.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:49 AM on 20 December 2004

Oklahoma, even more than other states, is beholden to the wisdom of Senator Russell Long: "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that man behind the tree."

Last week Oklahoma City passed (by about 8-1!) a measure which would increase the hotel-room tax, most of the proceeds earmarked for improvement of our horse-show facilities, the rest to push local tourism. And the one thing common to every advertisement to promote the bill was a reminder that we don't have to pay it; it's the visitor who pays the hotel tax, that man behind the tree.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:57 AM on 20 December 2004