TxDOT gets a kickback for creating 85 mph limit on toll road

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 9/13/2012

The Texas Department of Transportation has 33 million reasons to make sure the SH 130 toll road between Austin and San Antonio carries an 85 mph speed limit. Driving traffic to the tollway by way of a higher speed limit nets the agency an extra $33 million from the private operator.

Had the agency established an 80 mph speed limit, the private operator would have paid $67 million back to the state in toll proceeds as part of the agreement, but now that the posted speed will be set at 85, the private operator kicks in an extra $33 million – for a total of $100 million.

The 40-mile stretch of Segments 5 and 6 is set to open Nov. 11, if not sooner.

Various agencies, lawmakers, watchdogs and safety groups continue to debate whether 85 mph is a good idea, and whether it will draw traffic to the toll road and away from congested roads in the region.

State lawmakers approved higher posted speeds for new roadways that meet strict design standards. TxDOT assures that care was taken to establish the higher limit.

“State Highway 130, including Segments 5 and 6, were designed and tested for high-speed travel,” TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross said.

“Safety is our top priority and tests have shown the designated speed is a safe one. We look forward to opening this segment of SH 130, which will help reduce congestion for the Austin/San Antonio corridor by providing Texas drivers and others with an alternate route for traveling through our great state.”

When contacted by “Land Line Now,” Cross did not elaborate about TxDOT’s financial incentive to establish an 85 mph limit on the toll road, but said the numbers were accurate.

The toll road is being built and operated by the SH 130 Concession Co., a joint venture of Spanish toll operator Cintra and Texas-based Zachry American Infrastructure.

The concession company has a 50-year agreement with the state worth $1.3 billion according to the Federal Highway Administration. The U.S. DOT awarded a $430 million federal loan to help build the toll road.

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