Friday, December 28, 2007

TxDOT Suddenly Has Money To Spend: Part 2

I needed to split this story into two parts to clearly indicate, first, that the Texas Department of Transportation cares not a whit about the commuting needs of the average Texas resident, but will kowtow to the interests of foreign port developers who promise lucre. That was the gist of the first piece.

Part 2: TxDOT itself will spend no money on this project, but will agree to what amounts to privatization of SH 36 to a San Antonio-based construction firm, Zachry American Infrastructure.

This was all laid out in January of this year in FortBendNow. In essence, what TxDOT proposes is to let Zachary take charge of the widening project outlined in the first piece, using its own money and resources, and maintain the road afterwards for 35 years. Their revenue from this comes from a shady deal that is given the likely name “shadow toll”.

What is a shadow toll? It is a toll based on the number of vehicles that use the state highway over and above those that used it before the widening project. That is, a per-vehicle charge, amount unspecified, that is paid by TxDOT over the 35 year time interval directly to Zachry. That TxDOT money comes from the taxpayer.

It’s another aspect of the infrastructure sell-off being conducted by the Texas state government. The diabolical thing about this is that we ultimately do not know how much this cost of widening and 35 years of maintenance will be. Because it depends on how much traffic uses the road. But you can bet that Zachry has crunched the numbers and realized that even the added truck traffic alone from Freeport’s Velasco Terminal will just about make them rich as Croesus. The only thing we really know is that TxDOT thinks it will cost $275.2 million. I guess what that means is that every dollar above that and the cost of maintenance is pure profit for Zachry.

That profit is money paid by taxpayers to Zachry. A tax that amounts to a service fee that would not actually be charged if this project were funded by traditional state transportation department budgeting.

In other words, Texans will be charged for private premium services, without being able to vote on whether they actually want that.

And even though State Highway 36 comes under the Texas state highway system, the state actually washes its hands of all maintenance, leaving motorists to deal with a private company if there are road problems that go unrepaired.

I don’t know. I guess I long for the day that Texas’ state government was a government that worked for the people and not a government that sold off bits of the state to the special interests. Whatever happened to “Pay as you go?” Isn’t that a fine conservative value? If Texas dosen’t have enough money to build and maintain its own infrastructure, in the face of a budget surplus, what does that say about priorities in Austin?

What does that say about the Texans that elected this Kleptocracy?

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