Half-truths, fear will not yield traffic
Terri Hall's comment "Toll road deals merit
scrutiny" (Monday) cheapens an important public
dialogue about how the state will deal with
rapidly growing traffic congestion. Once again,
Hall tries to reduce the discussion to
misinformation and scare tactics.
She offers little in
the way of realistic solutions to the problems
of more people, in more cars, driving more miles
on an already congested highway system in Texas.
The challenge gets bigger every day. There
are 1,000 more people in Texas today than
yesterday. Tomorrow, there will be 1,000 more.
Every three years, Texas adds the equivalent of
the city of San Antonio to its population.
As a member of the Texas Transportation
Commission, it is not appropriate for me to
"take sides" on proposed state legislation. The
commission and the Texas Department of
Transportation take direction from the
Legislature. We will use every resource and tool
that legislators provide us to improve mobility
Unfortunately, Hall misses the mark on
several items she tries to pass off as facts.
First, Hall's assertion that private toll
road builders like Cintra-Zachry will invoke "noncompete
agreements" to prohibit the improvement or
expansion of nontolled roads is false. The
notion that the state will sit on its hands and
allow gas-tax-supported roads to crumble is
directly refuted by plans for decades of
improvements to roads, including Interstate 35.
Cintra-Zachry has no legal standing to stop
plans for upcoming work on nontolled roads or
future rail projects, and it will not be
compensated for any loss of revenue those
long-planned improvements cause for it.
In fact, the $25 million upfront payment from
Cintra-Zachry to the Texas Department of
Transportation for the right to develop Texas
130 north of Seguin will be used to pay for
accelerated improvements to our area's nontolled
Hall insinuates toll rates on new Austin area
toll roads are 44 cents a mile and higher, when,
in fact, the average toll is about 15 cents per
Hall makes another false statement when she
says a private toll operator is "guaranteed 12
percent profit." Despite investing billions of
private dollars to reduce congestion and improve
safety, no toll road investor is guaranteed a
profit. They have an opportunity to earn a
profit, but only by providing a high quality
product that motorists choose to use and are
willing to pay for.
Hall also complains that
captured a contract to build 600 miles of
highway alongside Interstate 35. No such
contract exists. No company has been selected to
build any portion of Trans Texas Corridor 35.
TTC-35 is still in the planning process. As a
vital part of that process, the Texas Department
of Transportation held more than 100 meetings
across the state to receive public comment on
whether, where and how the road should be
constructed. If it is built, TTC 35 will be the
most publicly scrutinized road project in
Hall regularly misrepresents a report by the
Texas Transportation Institute by claiming
indexing the gas tax to inflation "is all that's
needed to meet our future transportation needs
without tolls." The report doesn't say that. In
fact, Dennis Christiansen, TTI's director,
testified before the Legislature in February
that "toll roads are a part, an integral part,
to any mobility plan we will have."
Hall's comment is filled with other mistruths
that, frankly, don't deserve to be repeated.
Transportation issues are among the most
important to meeting our state's aspirations for
a vibrant economy and a healthy environment.
Trotting out half-truths and scare tactics does
not serve any honorable ends. Striving to meet
our state's goals will require vision and
political courage. Above all, it will require an
honest discussion of the facts. Texans deserve
Hope Andrade of San Antonio is a member
of the Texas Transportation Commission.