Spain's Cintra gobbles up sixth U.S. toll road contract

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 3/5/2013

The Spain-based company that controls the Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway has just signed a deal to operate its sixth public-private toll contract in the U.S.

Cintra, full name Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, will operate two future portions of the North Tarrant Express in Dallas/Fort Worth as part of a consortium formed by its parent company, Ferrovial.

The deal is worth $1.38 billion.

The first portion involves managed toll lanes along 6.5 miles of Interstate 35W between Fort Worth and I-280. The managed-lanes project in the greater Dallas/Fort Worth region is known as the North Tarrant Express.

The second portion of the contract is for Cintra to operate, maintain and manage tolls on 3.6 miles of North Tarrant Express lanes being constructed by the Texas Department of Transportation along I-280 between I-35W and U.S. 287.

In exchange for developing the contracts, Cintra would manage the lanes and tolls for 43 years from the date the roadway is expected to open in mid-2018.

The managed lanes will allow drivers to pay a toll to get out of congestion, according to the model. The more congestion there is, the more a driver pays to access the managed lanes.

Current toll-free lanes will remain toll-free, the company said.

“This is the sixth contract that Cintra has headed in the U.S.,” company CEO Enrique Díaz-Rato said. “It confirms our strong position in North America, where we have landed three new projects worth $3.85 billion in the last year.”

Cintra is by far the largest private toll operator in the U.S.

Four of the company’s six U.S. toll contracts are in the Texas, and from the looks of things the company has no plans to slow down.

TxDOT tapped a Cintra-based consortium in 2009 to build first two sections of the North Tarrant Express.

In October 2012, Cintra and U.S. partner Zachry American Infrastructure opened sections 5 and 6 of the State Highway 130 toll road between Austin and San Antonio. The SH130 carries the highest posted speed limit in the U.S. at 85 mph.

The granddaddy of all public-private partnerships involving infrastructure to date is still Cintra’s 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road in 2006. Cintra and minority partner Macquarie of Australia paid $3.85 billion to Indiana to operate the 157-mile roadway in exchange for toll revenue through the year 2081.

Under the agreement in Indiana, toll rates for five-axle trucks were allowed to more than double from $14 to $32 within the first five years. For the remaining 70 years, toll rates are indexed to the rate of inflation, estimated at 2 to 3 percent per year.

Truckers including OOIDA members were part of a constitutional challenge of the Indiana Toll Road lease, but deep pockets prevailed in the case that went all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court.

Cintra entered the U.S. toll road market in 2005, partnering with Macquarie to pay the city of Chicago $1.83 billion to control the eight-mile Chicago Skyway in exchange for 99 years of toll collection.

Cintra arrived in North America in 1999, shelling out $2.2 billion – again with Macquarie as a minority partner – to operate the 407 Express Toll Route in Toronto, Canada, in exchange for 99 years of tolls.

More recently, Cintra’s parent company Ferrovial inked a deal in December 2012 to build a future toll road parallel to U.S. 460 in Virginia’s port region. The company estimates completion of that 55-mile roadway in 2017. The starting toll for five-axle trucks is expected to be $12 per trip.

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