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Bankruptcy Revives Concerns About Private Toll Financing

Ryan E. Poppe
Traffic along the SH 130 Toll Road from Seguin to Austin

In 2012, Cintra, a Spanish transportation company, and San Antonio-based Zachry American Infrastructure formed a partnership.  They called it the SH 130 Concession Company, and negotiated a 50-year contract with the state to maintain 41 miles of the SH 130 toll road.  In exchange the state would share a portion of the tolls collected from drivers.

It was supposed to be a cash cow for operators.  But the Concession Company’s Chief Operating Officer Guy Russell explained it hasn’t turned out that way.

“Traffic on the facility has been lower than expected. As a result, the current debt-repayment schedule is unsustainable,” he says.

Russell said the SH 130 Concession Company is $1.7 billion dollars in debt because of lower than projected traffic on the highway.

Veronica Byer with TxDOT said the company decision to declare bankruptcy will not impact the state or taxpayers. “And the state is not liable for any of its debt," Byer explained.

Russell said the company will continue to operate and collect tolls on the 41-mile stretch that runs from Seguin to South Austin,  and it's signaled that it wants to serve out the term of its contract with the state.

But transportation leaders at the capitol said the company filing for Chapter 11 resurrects a concern that toll roads do not actually reduce traffic congestion.

El Paso Democratic Rep. Joe Pickett is the chairman of the House Transportation Committee and said, “With most of the tolls in the Central Texas area are not doing anything to actually alleviate congestion and help the day-to-day driver, it’s just not there."

Pickett said he will hold a special transportation hearing at the end of March to review each state-run and privately-operated toll road in Texas and explore whether they are beneficial to drivers. 

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.