The local Texas toll-road authority in the Houston area will hold onto
its assets, a commission has decided, despite a growing trend around the U.S. to lease infrastructure to the highest bidder.
The Harris County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously June 20 for
the local toll authority to continue operating the 83-mile toll-road system.
June 20 was the same day the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and the Indiana Finance Authority in an appeal by
plaintiffs in a lawsuit over Daniels’ “Major Moves” transportation plan. The
plan includes the 75-year, $3.85 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road to ITR
Concession Co., a Spanish-Australian consortium of Cintra-Macquarie.
The vote in Texas was based on a recommendation gathered from a $1
million financial feasibility study, which concluded the local toll authority
is better off regulating its own toll increases, revenue and expenses rather
than handing that power over to a private investor.
In the financial study, JP Morgan-Popular Securities concluded the
Harris County Toll Road Authority could have attracted up to $10 billion with a
50-year lease and up to $13 billion over 75 years.
Another financial analysis company, Citigroup-Siebert Brandford Shank & Co., found that county control of the road would be economically
beneficial in the long run, and that the steady revenue stream from tolls
provided leverage for expansion.
Commissioner Steve Radack was quoted in the Houston Chronicle as saying the commission was strongly
opposed to a private lease.
“Now we can erect a sign on the toll roads: ‘Not for sale, not for
lease,’” Radack said.