TxDOT brokers financial incentive to make Hwy 130 toll road less safe

Read about it in Toll Road News here.

You read that right, TxDOT actually wrote financial incentives into this toll road contract that makes the tollway less safe via high speeds. While none of us wants to crawl along our expressways, there’s considerable debate over how high speed limits should go before it makes the roadway less safe. In fact, public safety groups have already urged the Transportation Commission to maintain current speed limits thorughout the state and TxDOT thumbed their noses at them, too, and raised them from 70 MPH to 80 MPH (read about it here) in spite of statistics that show that “nearly 40 percent of the 3,600 people killed on Texas roads in 2004 were speed-related crashes.” Well, in the Hwy 130 contract, TxDOT built in higher cash payouts for themselves for allowing higher speed limits on the tollway, up to $100 million MORE in cash up front if they allow an 85 MPH speed limit. Just another dangerous example of the Governor’s Transportation Commission and their profit-driven approach to transportation.

Here’s just a portion of the article:

July 6, 2006


Speeds on new Texas 130 South TR major $-issue

Posted speed limits are a major financial issue in the terms of the toll concession for Texas State Highway 130 Segments 5 and 6 (TX130-S for South). The fine print of the concession agreement now available on the TxDOT website shows that posted speed limits are seen as a key to attracting large volumes of traffic from free-competitor I-35.

Exhibit 7 (Ex7) titled Compensation Terms provides that the concessionaire will pay TxDOT three radically different amounts of money depending on the legally enacted speed limits for the new tollroad (TR).

TX130-S TR route runs parallel with I-35 south of Austin toward San Antonio. It is 20 to 25km (15mi) to the east but serves much the same long distance traffic. If higher speed limits are posted on TX130-S then the improved travel times will attract more tollpayers.

Exhibit 7 provides for two approaches for the state to garner a share of higher speed toll revenues: (1) higher upfront concession fees or (2) a higher share of annual toll revenues.

$25m for 75mph, $92m for 80mph, $125m for 85mph

Most rural expressways in Texas were posted for speeds up to 70mph when the concession was negotiated but in the past month have been increased to 75mph (121km/hr). So without special treatment TX130 would now be posted 75mph. At that posted speed TxDOT only gets $25m upfront fee. Ex7.A.2 reads: “In the event TxDOT authorizes, within 180 days after the Service Commencement Date, a maximum daytime posted speed limit for passenger vehicles of 80 miles per hour on the Facility, other than in populated areas or other specific locations where design does not accommodate such speed, and TxDOT affirmatively elects in writing to waive increased revenue sharing under Part B respecting such posted speed limit, Developer shall pay to TxDOT an additional $67 million.” There is more refinement on the timing.

Then in Ex7.A.3 the agreement reads that if TxDOT authorizes 85mph for passenger vehicles the concessionaire must pay an extra $100m in upfront fee.

80mph is now the legal posted maximum speed on a 695km (432mi) stretch of I-10 and on 143km (89mi) of I-20 in the west of Texas so there is precedent for 80mph, but there are no highways yet with 85mph posted. In a peculiarity of the law on speed limits in Texas higher speeds are not flat illegal but “prime facie” (considered on their face) to be unsafe speeds and an offense.

There is a formula for refunding the speed-concession fee add-on if the speed limit raises are revoked. (Ex7.A.5)

See Express-News blog on this topic here.

Read Austin American Statesman article here.

Read Texas Toll Party’s take on Sal Costello’s blog.