Not even the highest posted speed limit in the United States could woo drivers to take the long, long, long way around Austin—particularly through the southern end of the Texas State Highway 130 toll road. The entire road seems to have been built on high hopes instead of actual research and data.
SH 130 Concession Co.—the joint venture between Zachry Construction Co. and Spanish developer Cintra who operates the southernmost Segments 5 and 6 of SH 130—never released traffic projections for SH 130, reports The San Antonio Express-News.
The state, however, did their own research, which clearly didn’t justify building the southern leg of SH 130. The Express-News writes:
But the state had already studied the matter years ago, determining there wouldn’t be enough traffic on the southern section of Texas 130 to make construction of the toll road worthwhile.
Here’s how state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, and chairman of the House Transportation Committee, put it: “They didn’t rely on any of the numbers that we put together.”
SH 130 runs 41 miles around the city of Austin, and many of its proponents hoped that it would alleviate traffic woes by rerouting through traffic off Interstate 35 and around the city entirely. It was sold on the idea that Texas would bear no upfront costs in the road’s development, as the developers would profit from the road’s operation to pay back their debts over the next 50 years. The state would also benefit from toll revenue in the meantime.
Only problem is, it goes too far out of the way, especially at the southern end. If you do use the road, you may encounter wild hogs on the road or pavement issues that make it hard to enjoy that 85 mph speed limit. Few people actually use the pricey toll road, and toll revenues are far below state expectations accordingly.
The operator of the southernmost Segments 5 and 6 of SH 130 filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. In doing so, the road’s developers are walking away from a billion dollars in private loans as well as a roughly $500 million federal loan, per the San Antonio Express-News. Those same developers benefited from construction contracts to build SH 130 through various subsidiaries.
Worse yet, SH 130's construction is believed to have contributed to flooding in Lockhart. No one is sure how any of those flooding issues will be resolved with the SH 130 Concession Co. in bankruptcy. SH 130 Concession Co. announced in August that its lenders will take ownership of Segments 5 and 6 of SH 130 while they continue to operate the road as part of their Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, per the Austin American-Statesman.
Maybe it’s time to admit that roads are a public good and build a public, free-to-use loop around one of Texas’ most congested cities? Let SH 130's broke operators lie in the mess they made and figure out how to fix the problem yourselves, Texas.