Texas toll road sold at auction for $12 million

| Thursday, January 08, 2004

After three years of low traffic, the $90 million Camino Colombia Toll Road, the state's first and only private superhighway, was sold at foreclosure auction Tuesday for $12 million, the Houston Chronicle reported.

One of the project's lenders, John Hancock Life Insurance Co., purchased the 21.8-mile road after the Texas Department of Transportation declined to bid any higher than $11.1 million.

Camino Colombia Inc. failed to keep pace with $75 million in outstanding loans that were granted in 1999 amid rosy projections linked to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the paper reported.

The highway has remained open despite its long-apparent fiscal woes, but its future is uncertain. Meetings on whether to keep the road open started after the afternoon auction.

Camino Colombia uses the Solidarity Bridge northwest of Laredo to connect Texas with the heavily industrialized Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon, which has only a narrow strip of land touching the Rio Grande. For $16 for trucks and $3 for passenger vehicles, the highway has enabled motorists to circumvent the often-clogged arteries that pass through Laredo and its four international bridges.

But many truckers, balking at the tolls, found alternate routes to skirt Laredo and its Mexican counterpart, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.

In 2002, officials said car volume was meeting expectations, but they conceded that truck traffic was not. Since 2003 there has been talk of selling the road and related facilities.

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