News Column

Texas 130 traffic, revenue still weak in latest numbers

January 29, 2014

By Ben Wear, Austin American-Statesman

Jan. 29 --The privately held section of the Texas 130 tollway continues to see only a few thousand drivers a day, and is bringing in toll revenue that is dwarfed by the 40-mile highway's $1.1 billion debt. However, because highway volumes can vary by season and less than a year of monthly traffic data is available, discerning a trend for the road from Mustang Ridge to Seguin is not yet possible. The highway saw about 7,850 vehicles a day in September at its northern toll plaza, between Mustang Ridge and Lockhart , and just under 4,200 vehicles daily in the more rural southern section southwest of Lockhart . The road generated about $1.2 million in toll revenue that month. The traffic numbers for June through August, when vacationing Central Texans might be more prone to use it as a pathway to Coastal Bend and South Padre Island getaways, were about 10 percent better. Revenue in those months was roughly the same as in September. The road's best month so far was March, when the various big events in Austin -- South by Southwest, high school basketball state tourneys, the rodeo -- could have generated traffic. The Mustang Ridge -to- Lockhart section saw about 9,100 cars and trucks a day that month. "Any toll road experiences seasonal fluctuations and month-to-month fluctuations," said Chris Lippincott , a spokesman for SH 130 Concession Co. The highway opened in late October 2012 , and toll charges began a couple of weeks later. The American-Statesman requested data through September 2013 in a request made under the Texas Public Information Act in October. The company last week released the data after the Texas attorney general's office ruled that the information must be disclosed. Lippincott said the company, despite the two adverse rulings by the attorney general, would not voluntarily release data since September. The company, a joint venture of Spanish toll road operator Cintra and Zachry Construction Co. of San Antonio , built the $1.3 billion road under a 50-year lease with the Texas Department of Transportation . Under the agreement, the company paid TxDOT more than $100 million for the right to build and operate the road, and is sharing about 4.7 percent of the revenue with TxDOT. Based on the data released so far, the concession company should see about $15 million in revenue for the road's first year. But aside from the money owed to TxDOT -- about $700,000 in this first year -- the company must also cover operating costs and debt payments on the $1.1 billion it owes to private bondholders and the federal government. Lippincott declined to say what the company's annual operating cost on the road might be. The data, he said, represents "11 months of a 600-month lease. If this were a marathon, we'd be half a mile in. We remain optimistic." ___ (c)2014 Austin American-Statesman, Texas Visit Austin American-Statesman, Texas at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)

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