Friday, July 20, 2007

Perry reiterates toll road support

Governor tells builders the need for road funds will overcome critics
By RAD SALLEE - Houston Chronicle - July 19, 2007

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry told road builders at the Texas Transportation Forum here Thursday that he stands firm in his support for toll roads and public-private partnerships despite some setbacks in the past legislative session.

"When you have big dreams," he said, people tell you, "You can't get there from here. But I assure you we can get there from here, and we're going to get there together."

Perry said traditional sources of road funding — "a trickle of federal funds and a gas tax that few legislators would even think of raising" — aren't nearly enough to meet the state's needs.

"There isn't even enough money to maintain our current system," he said.

And the fuel tax "has problems on its face," he said. Unlike toll roads, which typically have a free alternative, fuel taxes are paid by all drivers, and hit rural residents hardest.

"The boys out in Lubbock, Odessa and Marfa really don't see the benefit
in it for them,"
he said.

"If we don't build roads with innovative financing and tolls, roads are not going to be built in our state," he said.

Driving the private sector

Perry said even the prospect of the state contracting with the private sector to build and operate toll roads is paying off.

"Projects that local toll road authorities would not have bid on a few years ago are now attracting very strong interest because private companies are now competing to build those same projects," he said.

This was an apparent reference to the North Texas Tollway Authority's offer to pay the state $3.3 billion to build and operate for profit in a 50-year lease, a segment of Texas 121 in the Dallas area. The offer topped a previous $2.8 billion bid from the Spanish firm Cintra.

"They may never say it," Perry said of lawmakers opposed to such long-term public-private toll partnerships, "but the Legislature admitted we were on the right track.

"While they were calling for a moratorium on toll roads, on one hand, they were insisting on toll road projects in their own districts because their constituents wanted to see things moving. They wanted to see those roads built."
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