Toll­way prof­its could be near

New TXDOT fore­casts show roads mak­ing $5 mil­lion in fis­cal ’14.

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - Wear B jul­loa@states­man.com states­man.com. Lights B

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flash: Our lo­cal toll roads could all be prof­itable by 2014. If only it were that sim­ple. I got a call the other day from Terri Hall, an anti-toll­road ac­tivist from the San An­to­nio area. She had just met with Texas De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion of­fi­cials, and they had shared with her the star­tling news that their sys­tem of four toll­ways in and around Austin would reach prof­itabil­ity by the end of the 2013-14 fis­cal year. Hall was skep­ti­cal.

I was sur­prised. In July 2011 when I last checked in on the fi­nan­cial sta­tus of the Texas 130, Texas 45 North and Loop 1 toll­ways — which are com­bined fis­cally as the Cen­tral Texas Turn­pike Sys­tem — TxDOT’s own pro­jec­tions showed them los­ing $20 mil­lion to $40 mil­lion an­nu­ally as a group un­til 2030. Af­ter that, most years would be prof­itable, the pro­jec­tions showed, and by 2042 the three roads would make a $520 mil­lion cu­mu­la­tive profit.

Now, a lit­tle more than a year later, TxDOT’s num­bers have changed. The agency’s lat­est fig­ures show the roads (there are now four, be­cause the lightly trav­eled Texas 45 South­east toll­way has of­fi­cially joined the fold) los­ing about $3 mil­lion this fis­cal year, but mak­ing about $5 mil­lion in profit in fis­cal 2014. Af­ter that, it’s hit and miss for a few years un­til the sys­tem reaches longterm prof­itabil­ity by the 201819 fis­cal year.

From 2013 to 2042, the to­tal profit is now shown as $1.53 bil­lion. That net fig­ure doesn’t ac­count for $204 mil­lion in tax sub­si­dies since 2007.

The num­bers mat­ter for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

When the toll road sys­tem is in the red — mean­ing rev­enues are less than debt pay­ments on bonds sold to fi­nance the roads, plus op­er­at­ing and main­te­nance costs — the di­fler­ence is made up by gas tax dol­lars. Which means less money for other high­ways around the state. And if and when the roads started gen­er­at­ing a profit, that money would be avail­able for other trans­porta­tion projects in Cen­tral Texas be­cause state law re­quires that toll road sur­pluses be used in the area where they are gen­er­ated.

So what changed in the past 17 months or so?

Adding Texas 45 South­east to the ledger in Septem­ber

ByJazmine Ul­loa

Les­lie Fossler stood with friends out­side of Zilker Park on Sun­day, drink­ing eggnog and singing Christ­mas carols, as she waited for the re­turn of one of her fa­vorite hol­i­day tra­di­tions, the Trail of Lights.

“The city owes it to the com­mu­nity to make this hap­pen,” said Fossler, a 58-year-old in­te­rior de­signer who lives in South Austin, where ev­ery win­ter for 18 years she and fam­ily mem­bers would walk down to the an­nual event that started in the 1960s.

She did not mind the noise, the crowds or the blocked ofl streets in her neigh­bor­hood, See pho­tos and video from the Trail of Lights with this story at she said. When city bud­get cuts ended the an­nual tra­di­tion two years ago, she said was sad to see it go. And on open­ing night Sun­day, Fossler was among hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, to wel­come it back.

“It got the en­tire fam­ily

The Trail of Lights was scaled back in 2009 be­fore be­ing axed al­to­gether in 2010, leav­ing many res­i­dents dis­ap­pointed.

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