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Camino Colombia Toll Road: Will History Repeat Itself?

TxDOT to purchase Camino Colombia Toll Road (04/29/04) objects to discussions conducted in Spanish

Commission response to objection raised by (04/29/04)

SR91: A Public-Private Toll Road Disaster

Camino Colombia Toll Road

Will History Repeat Itself?

On January 30, 1997, the Texas Transportation Commission passed Minute Order 107059 approving a private toll road to be financed, constructed, and maintained by Camino Colombia, Inc. in Webb County near Laredo, Texas.

The Camino Colombia Toll Road was constructed and opened to traffic in October 2000.  The road begins near the Colombia-Solidarity International Bridge and stretches just 22-miles east where it connects with Interstate 35.

The Colombia-Solidarity Bridge processed 56 percent of the northbound loaded trucks in January 1998. Laredo Development Foundation

Development of this $90 million dollar toll road was supported by local officials including Webb County Commissioner Rick Reyes and State Representative Henry Cuellar.

Similar to what has been proposed for the Trans Texas Corridor, the Camino Colombia Toll Road also offered ten landowners a shareholder position in the project. By August of 2001 several of those landowners had become unhappy with their agreements and brought suit against the toll road company. 

"Less than one year after the Camino Columbia Toll Road opened, several landowners who joined the project have filed lawsuits claiming the venture has not been what they expected."  Laredo Morning Times (August 24, 2001)


Every early projection indicated that this toll road by-pass was very  much needed to provide Laredo relief from its severe traffic congestion. On its opening day the Camino Colombia Toll Road could accommodate up to 7,000 trucks per day.

"A top Raytheon engineering official briefing the Laredo Rotary Club Wednesday on the Camino Colombia Toll Road project estimated the road would handle initial volumes of 1,500 to 1,800 vehicles per day." Laredo Morning Times (February 26, 1998)

"Given projected 10 to 12 percent annual growth, this is a conservative estimate, Robert Chesshir, manager of engineering/transportation for Raytheon Engineering and Constructors, added." Laredo Morning Times (February 26, 1998)

The toll road was foreseen by promoters as, "a generator of regional economic activity." 

"Camino Colombia representatives expect their toll road, built entirely with private funds, to help alleviate truck congestion around the city." Laredo Morning Times (October 19, 1999)

While not a Texas Department of Transportation project, the TxDOT director of transportation planning & programming Al Luedecke praised the Camino Colombia as a very good alternative.

"Luedecke  said TxDOT officials are happy to see another road to help get some traffic off the highways closer to downtown Laredo." Laredo Morning Times (October 19, 1999)

The Camino Colombia had every thing in its favor. The volume of truck traffic through Laredo was staggering.

"About 14,000 trucks rumble over Laredo's three commercial-traffic bridges each day." Houston Chronicle (October 18, 2000)

"Nowhere is the chronic congestion worse than in Laredo - the busiest inland port in North America. More than 40 percent of all goods entering the US come through this city." Christian Science Monitor (November 20, 2000)

Expectations were high.

"Officials expect daily traffic to include 1,500 semitrailers and 300 passenger vehicles." Houston Chronicle (October 18, 2000)

Not everyone was a fan of the Camino Colombia Toll Road. At least one detractor attended a Transportation Commission meeting in Austin on May 30, 2002 where flyers were distributed.

"I also couldn't help but notice somebody passing out flyers, and I see some of them scattered up and down here. I thought it was kind of funny, first of all, they forgot to sign it so it's an anonymous flyer, and secondly, it says "Toll Road to Hell" and I couldn't help but notice, I've been at each end of the proposed toll road and it looked beautiful to me, and the regions and the elected officials and the people of the area seem to strongly support it."   Commissioner Robert L. Nichols, Texas Transportation Commission Meeting (May 30, 2002) [citation]

"Let's see here, it says: "Politics as usual. The current basis for funding toll roads seems to be based on politics. The example of Camino Colombia -- ooh, I like this -- promoted by switch-hitter Tony Sanchez, appears to be a case study of political maneuvering." Uh-oh, wait a minute, it's bad for my guys. "After a Laredo banker backed Ann Richards and failed to get approval, he switched allegiance to George W. Bush." What the hell is this? Guys got nothing better to do than to do that stuff?" Commissioner Ric Williamson, Texas Transportation Commission Meeting (May 30, 2002) [citation]

"'Is building toll roads with borrowed money a prudent business decision?' was a big question on the thing. I felt like a reasonable answer should be presented, and the answer is yes, very much so." Commissioner Robert L. Nichols, Texas Transportation Commission Meeting (May 30, 2002) [citation]

Perhaps the Commission should have paid more attention?

After three years of waiting, the expected traffic never arrived. Drivers in large numbers refused to pay the $3 per car and $16 per 18-wheeler truck toll. The road only carried 13-percent of the traffic that had been projected to use it.

Failed !

The Camino Colombia Toll Road failed and the bondholders foreclosed on their $75 million note.

The toll road was sold auction style on the steps of the Webb County Courthouse Annex on January 6, 2004. John Hancock Financial Services Inc. bought back its investment for $12.1 million.  TxDOT had bid $11.1 million to purchase the toll road. Today the future of the road is uncertain.

The Camino Colombia Toll Road was a far, far less ambitious project than the Trans Texas Corridor.  With the advantage of severe congestion through Laredo and a 73-cent per mile toll for trucks and 14-cent per mile toll for cars they could not even reach break even. 

An equivalent toll on the Trans Texas Corridor between San Antonio and El Paso would cost $70 one-way per car and $365 one-way per 18-wheel truck.

  TxDOT to purchase Camino Colombia Toll Road (04/29/04)    

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