“The End of the Road”
San Antonio Express-News
September 16, 2016
When the Texas Department of Transportation signed a deal for the first public-private toll road in the state, it touted the partnership as a win for everybody: The San Antonio-Austin area would get a new section of highway at no upfront cost to Texas taxpayers, private developers would run the operation and profit over time, and the state would own the road and earn millions of dollars in toll revenue. Plus, the 85-mph speed limit was supposed to entice drivers tired of the worsening congestion between the two major cities.
Less than a decade later, the companies charged with building the highway plan to walk away from the project and hand their bankrupt joint venture, SH 130 Concession Co., to its lenders. The company owes federal taxpayers more than a half-billion dollars and is engaged in a years-long dispute with TxDOT about maintenance and construction problems on the sparsely traveled road. And so far, it has paid the state only about $3 million in toll revenue.
The promise of high speed and no congestion has failed to entice most Interstate 35 drivers to try the alternative route. The road had attracted only about half of the company’s projected traffic by April 2013. But the public has no way of learning exactly how much traffic the developers expected the road to attract because SH 130 Concession Co. has refused to release the projections. In response to San Antonio Express-News information requests, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Department of Transportation declared the numbers proprietary.
Reporter Katherine Blunt spent a couple months sifting through the complexities of the traffic studies, contracts and bankruptcy filings. Interactive graphics and maps were created to augment the story and break down for readers the many companies and subsidiaries involved with the project, all part of SH 130 Concession Co. She spent time with nearby residents, too, who claim that the toll road, which has suffered from persistent pavement problems, has led to more severe floods since it opened, often submerging their homes. Months after the first cars began traveling the road, one man said he entered his house to find 30 inches of water inside.
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Submitted by Jamie Stockwell.