Toll Road Default Could Derail Rick Perry's Presidential Bid With Specter Of Trans Texas Corridor

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One of Rick Perry’s greatest public relations failures as Governor was his attempt to push the Trans Texas Corridor, a 50 year, 4,000 mile super highway project that would have criss-crossed the state at a cost of over $175 billion.

It was eventually dubbed “the NAFTA superhighway,” because it was meant to handle heavy trade traffic from Mexico, and one of the biggest targets of public ire was the foreign-owned construction company Cintra that was set to clean up on contracts.

When the idea took off like a led zeppelin, Perry scrapped selling the concept as one project and quietly moved to implement his grand scheme is smaller chunks of toll roads through public-private partnerships (P3s).

Now, with billions under contract with Cintra and other private companies, Texan’s nightmares are coming true as they wake up to the threat of default emerging from at least one recently completed toll.

According to a recent post in the Houston Chronicle:

    A default could descend into a disastrous scenario for the operator, its creditors and the state. If the creditors sweep in and demand full payment, Texas Department of Transportation officials could dissolve their controversial concession agreement with Cintra and Zachry for the 41-mile toll portion, about half of the entire Texas 130 tollway. A termination of the deal would make it harder for creditors to get their money back, Moody’s concluded….The risk of default comes amid lingering questions about TxDOT’s funding, its overall ability to maintain and expand roads in growing areas of Texas, and its ¬†increasing reliance on tolling.

The public outcry over Cintra highlighted concerns that a foreign entity was taking control of the state’s transportation system in a giant land grab using the state’s power of eminent domain at the cost of property owners. The 1,000 foot wide corridor that would have included toll lanes, railroads, and utility lines also drew much criticism from environmentalists, farmers, business owners and school districts all concerned how the massive footprint of the TTC would immediately impact their lives.

In October of 2012 Gov. Perry stood with the chairman of Cintra’s parent company as he cut the ribbon on the 130 toll project and said, “You know when we debated this concept back in 2003, there was no shortage of individuals both inside and outside the Capitol that said it wouldn’t work…Today’s proof that the concept is complete, and it can be seen in concrete and asphalt.”

They say hindsight is 20/20 but for many it won’t take the reality of a default to prove that the tolling of Texas’ highway system was a bad idea for taxpayers.

Back in 2012 the Texas Tribune did a story on how Texas was the greatest recipient of federal loan money used for toll roads, and its main beneficiary was Cintra.

“Spain-based toll operator Cintra is the lead investor on three Texas toll projects, each of which has received help from TIFIA. The SH 130 toll road from Austin to Seguin that opened in October received a $430 TIFIA loan. Two North Texas projects under construction, the North Tarrant Express and the LBJ Express, together have received $1.5 billion from TIFIA.”

Terri Hall, a homeschool mom turned citizen activist, and the founder of Texans for Toll-free Highways pinned a blog post for the San Antonio Express News where she outlined how such projects are bad for taxpayers.

    With Cintra’s SH 130 tollway attracting less than half the forecasted traffic, Moody’s downgraded the bonds to junk status last year. With SH 130 near bankruptcy, Cintra managed to get TxDOT to pony-up another $30 million to buy down the truck toll rates in the hopes of enticing more trucks to use the road. Thereby, making autos pay to subsidize trucks. This is the second year TxDOT subsidized truck toll rates, which falsely inflates the traffic on the private tollway.”

In the October edition of Rolling Stone Gov. Perry was slammed for his attempts to sellout Texas to foreign investors, but marveled at for his ability to project a public image that is its antithesis.

    “To recap: Rick Perry sold the right to tax Texas highway drivers to Spanish billionaires, let a British firm write a law authorizing the sale of virtually all Texas state property to foreign corporations, and tried to literally sell the lives of retired Texas schoolteachers to a Swiss bank. Yet he’s somehow built a reputation in the national media as a fist-shaking America-first nativist, with a Tea Partier’s passion for small government. How Perry has managed to sell this fictional version of himself is a testament to the extraordinary power of marketing over reality in our modern political system. In fact, his entire career is a profound testament to our nagging collective inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to distinguish between what a politician says and what he actually does.”

It’s true, many of Perry policies along with the cronyism would be shunned by the Tea Party if they were only aware, but many of his worst offenses are buried in his tenure as Texas’ longest serving governor.

When Perry ran for president in 2012 he didn’t get very far down the road before having to turn around and head back to Texas so it is unclear whether his old highway SNAFU would have been a factor. Now that he is gearing up for another go at it and his pet project looks to be going into default, the ultimate toll could be paid by Perry’s presidential ambitions.

Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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