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The SH 130 Toll Road Debate: Are Taxpayers Taking Too Much Of The Risk?

SH 130 Concession Co.

The new Texas State Highway 130 toll road extension is now open and charging motorists to enjoy it’s privatized asphalt while pushing their speedometers to 85 mph. It’s the fastest stretch of legal driving in the nation.

Also known as the Pickle Parkway, it’s the first public-private partnership highway in Texas, but according to opponents the partnership allows the private company to shoulder very little risk, and instead puts taxpayers on the line to pay for such risks as uncollected tolls.

Pro Toll Road:

Chris Lippincott is the spokesman for SH 130 Concession Co., the company that built and will manage the toll road.

"The State of Texas owns State Highway 130. Our company has an operation and maintenance lease for the next 50 years ,which means that our private company is responsible for filling pot holes and changing light bulbs at no cost to the taxpayer for the next 50 years. There's no foreign ownership of the road, we used more than 150 Texas-based sub-contractors to build this road - took  3,600 Texans to work during construction."

"When you drive on our road you won't see toll booths, you don't need to have a handful of quarters to throw in a basket. Two things cause problems on roads: changing lanes and changing speeds, and by getting rid of toll booths we've eliminated some of those challenges on our highway."

In response to some of the criticism about the perceived high 85 mph speed limit and charges that the company lowered speed limits on surrounding roads to make SH 130 more attractive, Lippincott said that his company does not have the power to set speed limits and all speed limit decisions were  made exclusively by TxDOT.

Anti-Toll Road:

Terri Hall has a different view of the toll road; she and her organization, Texans United for Reform and Freedom (TURF), are calling for a boycott of State Highway 130, which she calls a bad deal for Texas taxpayers.

"One of the incentives that Cintra [parent company of SH 130 Concession Co.] built into this contract was that they would increase the amount of money they were willing to pay to our Texas highway department for how high they set the speed limit on that tollway... The speed limit wasn't really set based on public safety standards or traffic and safety studies, this was about greed... then they are artificially manipulating and lowering the speed limit on the surrounding free route, which is U.S. 183 through the Lockhart area - used to be 65 mph, now they've dialed it down to 55 mph. Well, do you think that's coincidence? I don't. They are trying to make free routes unattractive and making the toll road more attractive, and they're using our public resources and our highway department."

"Roads are, by their very nature, a monopoly. So we are handing state-sanctioned monopolies to a single private operator, in what are basically no-bid contracts. These are called best-value bidding, they've thrown competitive bidding out the door on these contracts and we are granting them monopolies for a half century at a time."

"We are not opposed to a publicly owned toll road, or a privately owned toll road, it's the public-private hybrid where the taxpayers are on the hook for the losses and the private operators are guaranteed profits and get all these non-competes and all these sweetheart deals."

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi