December 17, 2004
Thus begins the Trans Texas Corridor

I haven't blogged much about the Trans Texas Corridor before, but with the announcement yesterday that an agreement has been reached to build the first piece of the corridor, a toll road between San Antonio and Dallas, I think there will be a lot to say in the future.

The long-term partnership with the consortium, led by Spanish toll road operator Cintra and San Antonio-based Zachry Construction Corp., is at once shockingly new for Texas and historically familiar. Spaniards, after all, built the first road in Texas, the El Camino Real about four centuries ago, some of it in the same corridor where Interstate 35 now lies and where Cintra and its partners would start the turnpike. But handing over a major state highway project to private operators, this in a state that could not even build toll roads until recent years, breaks new policy ground.


The consortium, in the first phase of what could be a decades-long partnership, would construct more than 300 miles of four-lane turnpike (with ample room for expansion) from the Oklahoma border to the east side of San Antonio, leaving a gap only for Texas 130 near Austin. The road would tie into the south and north ends of Texas 130, a tollroad currently under construction by Lone Star Infrastructure. Lone Star's primary partner is Fluor Enterprises Inc., which was the lowest ranked of the three bidders Thursday.


Officials expect that construction could start on the first segment from the south end of Texas 130 to San Antonio by 2007. The other four segments would begin in 2009 and 2010, with completion of the entire route by the end of 2014. Cintra and Zachry, along with about 16 other subcontractors, would also build other segments of the I-35 alternative, including a connection to Mexico either through the Rio Grande Valley or Laredo sometime after 2025. The "conceptual" plan submitted by Cintra recommended that extension go to the Valley (rather than the hometown of the man Perry defeated in 2002, Tony Sanchez), but a final decision on that route is likely years away.

The specific path of the entire project, in fact, is still a work in progress. The Transportation Department, in conjunction with Cintra and federal highway regulators, plans to narrow that route down to a 10-mile-wide corridor by late spring. The final route would likely be as close as possible to urban centers, officials said, but still far enough enough to be largely free of city traffic.


Just how Cintra and Zachry can afford to lay out $7.2 billion, and still make a profit remained unclear Thursday.

Jose Lopez, United States and Latin America director for Cintra, said the toll rates would be comparable to current Texas toll rates, which generally fall between 10 cents and 20 cents a mile for passenger cars and three to four times that for large trucks. And he said the company's financial plan did not include making money off concessions along the roads such as fast food restaurants, souvenir stores or gas stations.

Cintra and Zachry believe that if they build it, the drivers will come. One possible incentive: the 2003 legislation that allowed the state to build the Trans-Texas Corridor, or let someone else build and operate it, allows speed limits on the road of up to 85 miles per hour.

I'll come back to some of these points in a minute. But for now, here's a question to ponder: What's the per-mile cost of the gasoline tax? My understanding is it's about a penny a mile. You'll be paying a lot more than that to drive on the Perry Pike.

Here's what the Express News has to add.

The Trans Texas Corridor is huge and costly. The $184 billion endeavor is eventually supposed to crisscross the state with 4,000 miles of 10-lane highways and rail lines in swaths up to a quarter-mile wide.

Officials will have to charge tolls to finance bonds and pay for operations and maintenance. They'll also have to confiscate farmlands and wildlife areas.

"This is just one of those things that is painful and there's not an awful lot we can do about it," said commission Chairman Ric Williamson.

Motorists now pay from 10 cents to 20 cents a mile to use toll roads in Houston and Dallas, and Cintra says that will be a starting point to decide its fees on the route it will build along Interstate 35.

Cintra will have to rely on traffic congestion on I-35 to drive frustrated motorists to its toll lanes.

As a result, Texas will likely limit expansion of the interstate probably to six lanes to ensure a lucrative market for the company.

"They need to have an expectation that they can get a profit," Williamson said. "And we shouldn't be ashamed of that."

Besides, Williamson added, the Transportation Department couldn't afford to do much more on I-35 anyway.

Buying up all that farmland is the reason why the Texas Farm Bureau rescinded its endorsement of the TTC. Taking all that land off of the tax rolls is going to have a big effect on many rural counties, just as the Katy Freeway expansion here has devastated Spring Valley. Is Cintra going to kick back any of its profits to help them out? Don't be silly.

Another fun thought from the Star Telegram:

Cintra officials said tolls will probably be similar to current rates on such roads as Dallas' President George Bush Turnpike. At 20 cents per mile, a trip from Fort Worth to Austin would cost about $40 each way, but the toll would be higher for trucks and other vehicles with more than two axles.

The road would be open to all traffic, but the emphasis would be on getting large trucks off congested highways.

Trans Texas Corridor supporters predict that trucking companies will pay tolls for a reliable, high-speed road. The projected speed limit on the Trans Texas Corridor is 85 mph, and trucks would be allowed to carry 50 percent more cargo.

Maybe truckers will be willing to shell out $40 or more to haul from San Antonio to Dallas, maybe not. I guess it depends in large part on how much time they can save by doing so. It'd be nice to know if anyone has empirical reasons and not just hope for thinking this would be true.

Oh, and doesn't the idea of sharing the ride with supersized rigs tooling along at 85 MPH just make you want to rush right out onto that new toll road? I shudder to think what the casualty rate is going to be like.

One last thing, getting back to all the land that will have to be bought up before any concrete is poured: Better start buying now, or risk seeing huge cost overruns come construction time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 17, 2004 to Planes, Trains, and Automobiles | TrackBack

Spaniards, after all, built the first road in Texas, the El Camino Real about four centuries ago...
y gringos estupidos have been calling it "the the royal highway" for almost as long.

Posted by: Michael on December 17, 2004 3:01 PM

These seem to me the two killer paragraphs:

"...Cintra will have to rely on traffic congestion on I-35 to drive frustrated motorists to its toll lanes.

As a result, Texas will likely limit expansion of the interstate — probably to six lanes — to ensure a lucrative market for the company..."

Got that? The State of Texas will strangle a vital existing Interstate Highway in order to ensure profit for a foreign corporation.

This would be unbelieveable in many states. But corruption is now leveraging itself through toll roads to pillage in a higher realm than ever before. 4,000 SQUARE MILES OF LAND?!?!

And that's not all. Suppose this mega-turkey doesn't earn enough to pay the interest on the bonds. What do you bet the State of Texas will be on the hook for the difference?

Hmmmmm. Maybe that's why they're planning to choke I-35 to force traffic onto the toll road.

And when those jumbo trucks going 85 mph tear up the shiny new toll road, who's going to pay for rebuilding it? Dynamic loading is not just linear with speed; I forget the formula, but heavy loads going fast are the death of highways...


Posted by: Demo Memo on December 20, 2004 3:15 PM

10-20 cents/mile for passenger cars? That's just ridiculous!

Those kinds of rates make some sense for an intra-city turnpike like the PGB 'pike here in Dallas, due to the 'pike's short overall length and the amount of infrastructure (interchanges, overpasses, etc.) required. But on an intercity turnpike that makes no sense at all.

The Turner turnpike between Tulsa and Oklahoma City runs $3.25, if memory serves, for 90+ miles. That's about 3 cents/mile. (At this rate the Ft. Worth-San Antonio toll would be around $10.) I doubt Turner exceeds 10 cents/mile for any but the largest trucks.

Of course there'll probably be a few bozos stupid enough to pay $40 for the thrill of driving to San Antonio at unsafe speeds - this is Texas, after all. But anyone who thinks it'll attract enough tollpayers to pay for itself is delusional.

So, Texas will leave I-35 in a state of disrepair to try to force people onto this boondoggle, then end up having to bail the damn thing out anyway.

On the gas tax, my understanding is the state and Federal taxes combined are 38.4 cents/gallon, so unless you're driving a gas guzzler, you're paying less than 2 cents/mile.

Posted by: Mathwiz on December 23, 2004 1:36 PM

Two Points:
1. Eminent Domain - It will be used and it will become brutal. Ask former landholders who were unfortunate enough to be located near the "super conducting super collider". Also see recent "Questionable" uses of the law. The Texas Supreme Court needs to interpret what the law was originally meant to achieve.
2. Fair Market Value - This project would usher in a whole new interpretation of what Fair Market Value means. Suppose you own 100 acres in the path of the TTC. They take 40 acres out of the middle of it and you are left with a 30 acre remnant on the east side and a 30 acre remnant on the west side. Can anyone convince me that either remnant will have any value after construction. TTC should be required to purchase the entire 100 acres at a Fair Market Value. They can then market the remaining remnants as the market dictates.

Posted by: Jim on January 3, 2005 2:57 PM

If anyone is interested, here is a link that is critical of the much touted TCC:

Posted by: Robert on January 19, 2005 11:23 PM

I am trying to find out where one would go to apply for work on this project. He has experience on all heavy equiptment and building roads. Anyone with this information, please reply.

Posted by: Kathi on February 4, 2005 7:36 PM

Craddick's new congressional district has already started skimming from the oil, water, cattle, pecans, the finest people in the world, and the district includes BOTH LUCKENBACK And LOWAKE! Now along comes the proposed Trans Texas Corridor! This monster will be owned and operated by damn foreigners from Spain! They will start drilling for oil, water, gas, sand and gravel, dirt, rocks, wood, and anything else that they can haul off. The fence lines will be pushed back onto the poor farmers and ranchers land. They will suck out all the oil, water, gas, sand and gravel, dirt, rocks, and everything else out from under the poor farmers and ranchers for miles on each side of the corridors all over Texas. I CAN UNEQUIVAClly GUARENTEE YOU THAT THEY WILL PICK UP AND HAUL OFF ALL THE ARROWHEADS That THEY CAN FIND AND THEY WILL NOTIFY ABSOLUTELY NO ON

Posted by: concermed citizen on March 9, 2005 9:15 PM

Keep Trucks off it, widen the lanes, stretch out the lines, Well-bank the curves and only let european (mostly german) cars drive on it, and a 100 to 130mph speed limit will be viable. the casualty/accident rate will be the lowest of any other highway as well.

Posted by: Lance on July 10, 2006 10:03 PM