It’s a case of the old, “I hate to say I told you so, but..”. Tip to Ben Wear, Toll troubles in Dallas.
But the upshot is toll traffic has slowed considerably up in Dallas, putting the North Texas Tollway Authority in a financial bind as it pays debt service on the massive $3.2 billion it paid TxDOT for the right to build the Texas 121 tollway. You may recall that a private consortium led by Spanish company Cintra was going to build it, and pay the state close to $3 billion in anticipated future profits.
But that changed during the 2007 legislative session when people sympathetic to the NTTA said that the authority, which already operated two existing tollways in the Dallas area, had not been given a proper chance to compete for the work. So, after the fact, the NTTA beat the Cintra bid and got the job. The $3.2 billion, now in TxDOT’s hands, is to be used on transportation projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Now, as Lindenberger’s story discusses, the sagging economy has led to sagging usage of Texas 121 (and other toll roads up there) and sagging revenue, and an emerging financial bind. Everyone is not happy.
Here’s the link to the DMN article Wear points to in his post, North Texas Tollway Authority to discuss toll rate increase today.
Drivers, pull out your wallets.
Toll roads in North Texas are about to get much more expensive if North Texas Tollway Authority board members accept a plan to be discussed at a meeting today.
By Sept. 1, toll rates would jump 32 percent, as the NTTA scrambles to find new revenue in the face of badly slumping traffic figures.
“Traffic on our system is projected to be down about 9.8 percent” this year, Davis said. “I think what the market looks for is decisive action to fix the problem. They realize we are not going to recover the losses by a toll increase within one year. They are looking more for action by the board that shows it is willing to do what is necessary to keep our system solvent.”
But the same steps taken to respond to declining traffic could make the NTTA’s problem worse, according to some drivers who said Monday that higher rates will cause them to avoid toll roads.
“If they raise rates, I will keep my Toll Tag, but I probably won’t use it as often,” said Plano resident Bethany Anderson, who said she spends about $30 a month on tolls by using toll roads when traffic is bad. “Every little bit helps when you look to see what you can cut, especially as gas prices ratchet back up. … I’m gonna need to see the NTTA’s plan for a teleporter before I want to pay more in tolls.”
Davis said staff has considered the potential for further traffic declines as a result of the rate increases. “But we think the additional revenue brought in will be sufficient” to compensate, she said.
The problem for the NTTA, said Davis, is that with traffic down so far so soon into the 52-year contract, there is little chance to ever catch back up, even with higher toll rates.
“When you have to retreat from your base year, then you are starting from a lower base. So while your growth may recover, you never recover what you have given up to that lower base line. It does become a significant number as you extend it out into the future.”
Wow! That’s tremendously bad news. I doubt state employees are hoping state Sen. Steve Ogden will no longer push a plan for investing Texas pension funds…in big road projects. And all Texas taxpayers hope the plan for a “transportation bank” that passed the Senate in last session, will be scrapped as well. What more will it take for everyone to understand that toll road schemes are a bad idea?