Citizens should be pleased to know that tax dollars used for projects known as Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) are being well-spent….on toys.

At its most recent monthly meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) in Dallas last week, visitors could treat themselves to free giveaways provided by none other than the corporations that “sell” PPP projects to the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT).

Essentially, a Public Private Partnership (PPP), also known as a Comprehensive Development Agreement (CDA) is an agreement between TXDOT and a private company to either build a highway or improve an existing highway with the addition of tolls. In some cases the entire highway is tolled, in many others only a few of the lanes are tolled under the euphemistic name of a “managed lane.”

At tables in the back of the TTC meeting hall stood representatives from construction, infrastructure investment, and toll operation companies. The promotional staff sported project-specific, branded swag ranging from, miniature hand sanitizer bottles and notepads to sunglass cleaners and squeeze toys.

Multimedia presentations, full-color project pamphlets, and glossy foam-board diagrams sat atop linen-covered tables where promoters could engage participants and answer questions as if they were selling a product, after all they are.

Projects with promotional tables included the LBJTexpress, 35Express, and the DFW Connector. Each one of these projects has received major cash infusions from TXDOT, federal sources and one has even received NTTA toll revenue.

A quick look at the investors of a few of these projects reveals other disturbing trends. One of the investing partners of the project is a government employee pension fund—the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System. Other notable project investors include Cintra—a Spanish infrastructure company and Meridiam Infrastructure—a French company.

While sensible arguments regarding the merits of PPPs can be made, Texans can probably all agree that project-branded squeeze toys are a waste of taxpayer money. Even more wasteful toys are being bought by the agency with your money, including $97 million for a street trolley in El Paso and $50 million to research jetpacks and hovercraft.

TXDOT needs serious reform if it is ever to regain the public’s trust. That will start by putting-away the toys and funding road projects.

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