The Capital Beltway HOT Lane Deal: Did the Kaniacs Give Away the Store?, a blog that bills itself as a journal of the politics of driving, has made quite a scoop: It has obtained a copy of nine pages excerpted from the “Comprehensive Agreement Relating to the Route 495 HOT Lanes in Virginia Project,” dated Dec. 19, 2007, between the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Capital Beltway Express LLC.

The blog summary of the contracts seems to confirm many of the worst fears of those who harbor doubts and suspicions about the HOT lane agreement — and I, a staunch advocate of HOT lanes, may well be forced to eat humble pie. In the end, I base my opinions on what the facts are, not what I wish them to be, so I bring this information to the attention of Bacon’s Rebellion readers to dissect and ruminate upon.

While the agreement asserts VDOT’s “unfettered right” to make transportation improvements, in the interpretation of it contains measures that would, in fact, curtail VDOT’s latitude to make improvements to the I-495 Beltway and other projects that might threaten HOT lane toll revenue. Writes the blog:

If [VDOT] determines that additional traffic lanes on the Capital Beltway Corridor are in the state’s best interests, the department shall consult with the concessionaire [Capital Beltway Express, a joint venture of Transurban and Fluor] as to an appropriate strategy to implement such additional traffic lanes. At the department’s sole discretion [it shall] permit the construction of additional lanes as part of the project with a view to minimizing any detrimental impact on the project or its ability to generate revenues…”

As boils down the meaning of that last phrase, the agreement is structured “to ensure the area remains sufficiently congested so that motorists will have an incentive to pay to use the toll lanes.”

The contract considers any improvement to the Beltway to be a “Department Project Enhancement,” which could trigger a “compensation event.” In such an event, Virginia taxpayers could be required to pay Transurban/Fluor compensation for lost toll revenue. Observes “Given VDOT’s stated lack of funding, adding an extra monetary premium to the cost of any improvements effectively gives the foreign company the ability to prevent such projects from happening.”

Compensation events are not limited to Beltway improvements. They extend to improved connections between the Beltway’s general purpose lanes and Interstate 66, and the Dulles Toll Road, says In such an event, an “independent engineer” would conduct a traffic impact study and determine the compensation due the concessionaire.

(I’m not sure that I read the agreement that way. From my perusal of page 69, the agreement specifically permits VDOT to make the improvements mentioned above, at its own expense, provided that… blah, blah, woof, woof… a bunch of impenetrable legalese follows. Readers better versed in reading contracts than I are invited to weigh in.)

The agreement also contains provisions to discourage any increase in the number of motorists sharing rides, says Quoting the agreement, “The department agrees to pay the concessionaire, subject to Section 20.18, amounts equal to 70% of the average toll applicable to vehicles paying tolls for the number of High Occupancy Vehicles exceeding a threshhold of 24% of the total flow of all permitted vehicles…”

Bottom line: If escalating gasoline prices revives the popularity of carpooling, taxpayers could wind up making multimillion-dollar payments to Capital Beltway Express.

The blogger casts this contract, which he regards as highly beneficial to Capital Beltway Express, in the light of recent revelations that Transurban, an Australian company, had mistakenly made $172,000 in contributions to various PACs of both parties. Recognizing that foreign contributions are illegal, the company has asked for its money back. See “Bring Your Own Checkbook” for details.

(See also a discussion of how the firm benefited from federal financing in “Federal Subsidies for HOT lanes,” and the revelation that Capital Beltway Express will be required to maintain minimum HOT lane speeds of only 45 mph in “HOT Lanes at 45 MPH Not So Hot.”)

I have contacted the Kaine administration press office asking for a response. With the General Assembly convening for the transportation special session, the spokesman I talked to said he could not promise to get back to me immediately, but would do his best. I will post the response as soon as I get it.

(Hat tip: Jim Wamsley.)

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I believe that Blogger Bob broke this story on BR.

    Don’t ya’ll remember me berating him for practicing law without a license?


    As far as I know – the contract clauses are fairly typical for privately financed and operated toll roads.

    We do expect investors to undertake a certain amount of risk in these endeavors but I think it’s a bit naive to think that they’d be just this side of stupid.

    Besides – where would VDOT find the additional right-of-way much less the money for it on the Capital Beltway – where people are already up in arms over losing their forested buffers to the new lanes?

    It appears that HR/TW is leaning heavily towards tolling their new (and perhaps existing) infrastructure and they already have several unsolicited bids.

    The State of Virginia DOES have the option of setting up a state-sanctioned toll road authority like the CBBT.

    The State would also have the option of using it’s existing pension monies for toll road operations – in my mind a win-win especially if Virginian’s could also invest in Virginia toll roads.

    as RH sez – that way the money DOES go ’round and round’.

    so .. given the “Newspaper” penchant for breathless reporting of nefarious government scheming to “stick it” to drivers – I’d at least want one more opinion as to whether the HOT lanes arrangement is particularly egregious or just run-of-the-mill.

    What IS interesting is the use of gas tax revenues to provide subsidized financing for the HOT Lanes.

    And this is only about a billion out of 18 billion planned…

    Who knows.. some of the remaining 18 billion might be also available to bidders of the HR/TW or US-460 toll road.

    All of this illustrates just how far removed the transportation planning process is – from all but insiders…

    .. a thoroughly helpless and frustrating feeling for those who would like to know more about the process…

    … and … as we speak.. the GA is live blogging the legislative carnage that will almost surely result in two outcomes:

    1. – no more State money for roads

    2. – new roads will have to be toll roads…

    and .. exactly who will you seek vengeance from for this travesty?

    oh.. one more thing…

    .. another reason why all the HOT lane money has to be spent on transit… well.. of course.. spending it to improve NoVa roads would “compete” against the HOT lanes – right?

    and the “tip” came from JW?

    what a troublemaker… ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. How do you know I don’t have a license? Er, well, I don’t, but I’m probably a lot closer to this kind of deal than you think.

    I’m sure Kaine only agreed to the bottom line — that a foreign lease to charge tolls is ok — without getting down into the details. Once you make that call, the bond companies are the ones that insist on the totalitarian provisions. As Larry G. mentioned, they’re typical and designed to make the private sector risk as close to zero as possible. Which begs the question: what’s the point? Little capital and little risk but lots of profit.

    Now Kaine is stuck. Even if he doesn’t like what he agreed to, he has to say: “Great work, VDOT!” At least, not until someone starts another one of those e-petitions.

    Washington Post caught napping again. Hello? Abuser fees?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Where is the Post? The Post, while having some good reporters, is a pathetic rag sheet run by ideologues whose only desires are to see the average Virginian pay higher taxes and to please the real estate types in the hope that more ads will be purchased.

    The Examiner and local papers in Fairfax County do a much better job at reporting Virginia news than does the Post.


  4. charlie Avatar

    These provisions would also have changed the cost of capitol for the HOV lane project.

    The pay-for-road projects have backfired in other states where it turned out the state had to pay more as traffic (and tolls) decreased.

  5. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    just FYI: “Transurban profits flow despite fuel cost”


    RECORD petrol prices have not damaged Australian toll-road revenue after figures from operator Transurban revealed a jump in coffers for the June quarter.

    Despite petrol prices remaining at record levels above $1.60 a litre, infrastructure analysts said the price had little effect on drivers’ opting to pay up.

    The increase in revenue was in part due to a rise in tolls.

    “It’s amazing that when petrol has risen 20 or 25 per cent in Sydney and Melbourne, the revenue number has come out pretty close to where we expected it to,” Matt Spence from Merrill Lynch said yesterday.

    “(Transurban) actually had revenue growth of about 9.5 per cent for the year when we were forecasting 10 per cent.”

    Drivers were now offsetting the cost of the tolls by saving on travel time and fuel, best demonstrated by a 13.9 per cent jump in revenue at one of the more expensive tolls, the M1 Eastern Distributor that links Sydney airport to the CBD.

    “By paying $5 to come in from the airport and saving on average about 15 to 20 minutes, people say the cost-benefit equation is worthwhile,” Mr Spence said.

    “While we are concerned about the oil price and look for any signs that it may affect traffic, the economy is what ends up being the main driver of toll road traffic,” the analyst said.

    Australia’s GDP, unemployment, credit and mortgage data were the main focuses for analysis.

    “Australia’s been pretty resilient, unlike the US, and there’s a reason we’ve got interest rates at 9.5 per cent for home loans,” the analyst said.

    “Oil prices alone do not drive people off toll roads or out of their car: if they’ve still got a job to go to, they’ll still go to that job but if they don’t have a job then that’s more a concern.”

    Revenue from Transurban’s M5 motorway linking Sydney to Canberra also grew by 4.8 per cent in the quarter to $39.4 million while the M4 road rose by 5.7 per cent to $22.5 million.

    Transurban’s 75 per cent interest in the Pocahontas Parkway in the US generated toll revenue of $13.8 million, up 7.7 per cent.
    e said.,25197,23990919-5005200,00.html

    there’s two schools of thought on tolls vs rising gasoline prices.

    It’s very hard to believe that investors – looking at 40-80 year timeframes would not have taken rising gasoline prices into their longer-term revenue projections.

    But one thing is for sure and that is the chances of gas tax increases is not high and the chances of flat or even declining revenues for less gasoline usage is not low.

    Further, the increasing price of oil is only going to make road constructions costs go up even higher and faster.

    And all of this points to less and less new “free” roads which sort of leaves the field to the toll road folks.


  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Bob made an interesting comment: “The bond companies are the ones that insist on the totalitarian provisions. As Larry G. mentioned, they’re typical and designed to make the private sector risk as close to zero as possible.”

    Very good point. I would add also that the moneyed interests behind the HOT lanes also have the wherewithal to hire the best legal talent in the country. As it happens, Hunton & Williams recently issued a press release touting its involvement in the HOT lane financing.

    To quote from a blurb I ran in R’Biz:

    The deal financing was extraordinarily complex, involving a $349 million equity investment by the private-sector partners, a $409 million contribution by VDOT, $589 million in subordinated debt with government backing, and $589 in “senior lien, multi-modal PABs, issued in four tranches, each credit-enhanced by an irrevocable direct-pay letter of credit issued by a commercial bank.”

    As far as I’m concerned, anyone who can even understand what that last phrase means deserves to be paid $600 an hour. (Or are the top lawyers getting more these days?)

    Listed as “contacts” regarding the deal in a Hunton & Williams Transportation Update were John D. O’Neill Jr., managing partner of the Richmond office and co-head of the public finance group, and J. Waverly Pulley III, whose practice focuses on public-private infrastructure projects. Hunton & Williams has won recognition by the 2008 Chambers Client Guide as of one of the premier law firms in public-private finance nationally.

    While I am totally in favor of public-private partnerships in theory, as a citizen I would insist that VDOT drive the hardest bargain possible in protecting the interests of taxpayers, drivers and citizens generally. My sense is that VDOT is outmatched. Who can VDOT call upon for financial and legal advice? The AG’s office? In-house attorneys? I doubt VDOT is calling upon nationally known experts in the field.

    If VDOT is going to negotiate these multi-billion dollar deals, it needs to hire the best talent that money can buy. Whether state procurement law makes that possible would be an interesting question to pursue.

  7. charlie Avatar

    Actually, I could argue that investors aren’t looking at those future projections and are actually pretty stupid. But the answer is more complex — these are tax free bonds we are talking about — and people may be putting money down for other reasons than sitting on the returns for 75 years.

    Jim, VDOT may be outgunned in the legal department, but lets be honest: letting private lawyers help would just result is some campaign contributor to Kaine getting a nice, fat, legal contract.

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Well, if this transportation issue is going to be a regional issue we should have legislation that says no addtional toll roads in one region until eery region has at least one.

    Then see how popular they are.


  9. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    yeah.. but what ya’ll are arguing essentially is that Virginia is not able to protect it’s own interests or if they attempt to get the right expertise to do so – then they risk undue influence.

    So which is it?

    Don’t ya’ll think that since Virginia has been consistently named one of the better managed states and that’s it’s own Auditor of Public Accounts and JLARC are at least capable enough to perform due diligence?

    Further, if you’re worried about Kaine – why not have the pachyderms task JLARC or APC to have an “independent” assessment done for best practices PPTAs and the like?

    I guess one could make the argument that since Virginia has typically been a “pay as you go” state that they are not wise in the ways of the world.. but methinks it a stretch… when there are but 5 states with AAA ratings and Virginia is one of them.

  10. Groveton Avatar

    Gee … who could have predicted this?

    Oh yeah – pretty much everybody who lives in NoVA who bothered to look at this abomination. Of course, that excludes all of NoVA’s state legislators who have obviously been asleep at the wheel. I have exchanged thoughts with a NoVA state politician. In my opinion, he is one of the better guys in the GA (perhaps that is faint praise). He gave me the usual “there’s no money” hooey and then moved on to tell me that Metro buses, Connector buses and HOV vehicles will all “use the HOT lanes for free”. I am not sure that’s what I got from the various postings by Bob.

    In blunt terms – this is a win/lose contract and our politicians have lost. Let’s see – life long state bureaucrats and part time legislative dillettantes vs. the hard boiled eggs of Fluor and Transurban. This was never a contest. Men vs. boys. In fact, Fluor’s home state of Texas has put a two year moritorium on these “sell public assets” deals. I guess when your neighbors include executives from these companies – you know better than to rush into deals.

    So – what to do now? The lousy contract has been signed. The “construction staging areas” have been deforested, 50 feet of trees on the beltway next to the entire length of the HOT lanes are being cut down and Kaine will be gone soon. So – what to do now?

    If you are a NoVA politician – run away from any hint of support. Ask questions and ask them in a loud voice. Call for heads to roll in VDOT. Even if you are a Democrat, blame Kaine. Call for “hearings” on this abortion. Sponsor legislation to implement a moritorium just like Texas.

    In addition, for the 1% of GA members who actually care about outcomes – start looking for points of breach. Every complicated contract ends up with the vendor in some type of breach. No contract envisions all the issues, changes and challenges ahead. A fair contract is modified and changed to both parties’ satisfaction as time marches on. However, this is not a faor contract. In this case, the aggrieved must wait until the inevitable handful of breach points emerge – then pounce. Demand that the contract be terminated. Negotiate a penalty. Let the companies save face. Take back the roads.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Public Private infrastructure is an oxymoron. All we need is still more confusion over property rights and who owns what. If the state runs their own toll roads, id be a lot less opposed. We ought to decide what business the state is in and stick to that, let private enterprise do the rest, but roads are a lousy place to start. The ability to travel is an essential public service, because it supports an essential individual right.


  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I guess it would be ugly to point out that when you send your gas taxes to Richmond and Washington.. that the result can indeed be an “abomination” …

    wanna increase the gas taxes so the same folks that gave you HOT Lanes can give you even more of the same?

    gee.. here we are ..turning that old crank… hating life… and saying to ourselves.. “if we only turn that crank faster and harder, we can get rid of these “abominations”. “

    tee hee

    what part of unelected and unaccountable do we not yet understand?

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    Didn’t we elect those guys in Washington and Richmond?

    Maybe they need more guidance and supervision than that provided by a handfull of optional voters every few years, you think?

    How about a mandatory budget referendum on the back of every tax form? Then we can see who wants to spend money on what.

    Everybody whose wish list adds up to more than 100% is referending for a tax increase.


  14. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    you mean the VDOT guys who kicked in $400+ million and who worked with the FHWA guys to get gas-tax subsidized financing for Fluor/Transurban to do the HOT lanes?

    THOSE elected officials?

    you know… the same guys who would decide what to do with increased gas taxes…. right?

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Jesus, Larry, which is it?

    If elected officials do what you want, then that ‘s th eDeomcratic process and anybody with a grievance can take a hike.

    If they don’t do what you want, its an abomination.

    I’m the one tha has said from the get go that elections are a travesty. 20% of the people turn out, and if you get a 2% plurality its called a mandate.

    You get to choose between two candidates, if you are lucky, and they are picked by the people who donate the most to the party.

    I’d wager that if you could vote for none of the above, turnout would triple.

    I’m pretty sure that if you had that mandatory tax referendum on the backof our tax forms, there would be a lot less arguing about “what the people want” and a lot more jostling to get it done.

    OK, so the people are clueless. If they had a real voice, I’d wager that would be a temporary condition. Even if they are clueless, so what? It is still their money, and clueless people ought to have a (weighted) equal say, just like anyone else.

    Since so much of the money rests in so few hands, what would you have to worry about. Hell, rich people might actually start paying their taxes, just to protect themselves.

    What about it, are you in favor os REALLY knowing how people want their money spent, or do you prefer to just tell us?


  16. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    What I’m pointing out is that for each of you that thinks increasing the gas tax will result in more/better roads that the current process merely funnels that money to unelected and unaccountable folks who decide how to spend it.

    And the ironic proof is that the existing gas tax – so revered by the folks who believe that the gas tax is a proper “user pays” type tax – is spend on the very things that such advocates are opposed to – transit and toll roads.

    and yet.. advocates of the gas tax, continue to .. believe that the way to fix transportation is to raise the gas tax even higher.

    and my question is to you – what makes you believe – that raising the gas tax – would produce any results different from what you see right now – more money for transit and tax subsidies for toll roads?

    long answer short: why do you continue to support increasing the gas tax if it is not going to get spent on the things you support anyhow?

    short answer please – how about 25 words or less. thank you.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “that the current process merely funnels that money to unelected and unaccountable folks who decide how to spend it.”

    I agree we need a better way to set priorities. We also need a better way to rationalize how to pay for them than merely “user pays”.

    I’d advocate for the gas tax as a means of raising more money irrespective of problems with how it is spent. At least if it is spent on a relatively bad priority, someone gets something, which is more than we are getting now.

    We might get a better payback working on juvenile arthritis than prostate cancer, but if that’s where the money goes, so be it. It’s better than nothing.

    The reason I advocate for the gas (or fuel of any kind) tax is that it alone accounts for weight, speed, mileage, bad tires, and a lot of other bad habits. It promotes conservation, and the collection method is in place. The arguments that we cannot collect enough, or that we cannot increase it in the face of higher gas prices, or that the basis is diminishing is proven nonsense by the practices of other states.

    Roger Provo is right: we need the leadership that can stand up to those who oppose the tax and sell its advantages to the public.

    We still have the problems of prioritizing the work we have een delaying for the last thirty years, and we still have the problem of distributing funds fairly, but neither of those are a real issue if you don’t have the funds.


  18. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Well I’ll give you honesty but I am stunned.

    You apparently advocate raising the taxes even if they are spend badly.

    That alone is breathtaking and pretty much explains the “no mo tax” mindset – because when that group of folks hears something like this – it confirms their worst fears about what “tax & spend” really means.

    Basically.. this sounds an awful lot like.. if we throw enough money at something… some folks are bound to benefit.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    I wouldn’t have to spew so many words if you woud stop putting them in my mouth. What is it with yu and floodguy? You are so intent on making your argument You have to invent things I didn’t say to argue with.

    I didn’t say spent badly. Less than optimal is stil not as bad as less than nothing, which is what we are getting (AND PAYING FOR) now.

    The real point is that we can;t solve the allocation problem and have no incentive to do so as long as there is nothying to allocate.

    You and the rest of the no-growthers use circualar logic because it takes us nowhere: which is exactly what you want to begin with.

    No budget = no change = no neighbors = no aggravation = peace and quiet = conservation = no growth = no budget.


    You forgot about entropy and people.



  20. Anonymous Avatar

    Look. I’d like to know how to get a good system in place that can tell us (if not unambiguously then within some reasonable probability) whether we should spend more money on juvenile arthritis or more money on prostate cancer.

    The system we use now might be wrong, but I would not suggest that we spend nothing and let everyone suffer until we fix the system, which is what you suggest.


  21. Anonymous Avatar

    Virtualy every economist in the U.S. is opposed to the gas tax holiday idea, they even signed a petition.

    They favor gas taxes for a number of very good reasons, and, not being politicians, they don’t have to care what people feel or think. to them the good results will far outweigh the bad.

    Yeah. I’m honest. I call a toll a tax. A targeted inequality. A thouroughly dumb idea from end to end. And inefficient.


  22. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I don’t think most folks are going to agree to pay more without some expectation of what is will be spent on.

    and that’s the basic issue.

    It’s not about no growth.

    It’s about paying more… for what?

    You are free to make whatever arguments you might to convince them that they should fork over more money…

    … but if they don’t buy your arguments… then what?

    you wanna blame them?

    this is why even though folks don’t care for toll roads that they’ll accept them for two important reasons:

    1. – they can choose not to pay
    (as opposed to being forced to pay whether they use it or not)

    2. – they get the same deal everytime – i.e. “do you want to pay for THIS trip”?

    as opposed to.. ” you agreed to higher taxes and now you cannot change your mind”.

    People are not dumb.

    they know what happens when higher taxes follow the promises..

    .. which is.. higher taxes and forgotten promises…

    so.. the safe path.. is no new taxes and quid pro quo transactions where at any point in time.. the services is no longer worth it.. you don’t pay….

    this is the reason why 80% won’t pay for higher gasoline taxes but that same 80% will pay to ride on a toll road.

  23. “I don’t think most folks are going to agree to pay more without some expectation of what is will be spent on.”

    That’s a perfect set up for the solution I’ve been advocating from the beginning:

    1. No new taxes because they aren’t needed.
    2. Constitutional amendment to prevent diversion (weaker versions of the idea have already been filed in the legislature)
    3. An increase in the gas tax should only come with a promise of very specific projects. Non-delivery upon the promise should be followed up with non-election of those responsible.

    Going for tolls because it seems like a politically easy solution is a sucker move. In looking for a piece that mentioned toller projections were based on $2.50 gas, I found this from the Austin American Statesman:

    “The numbers are startling. It looks like the only thing throwing off dollars will be TxDOT itself. According to that statement, the three roads will make $8.7 billion in toll revenue through 2042. In that same time, there will be $7.2 billion in debt payments for that borrowed $2.2 billion, $1.1 billion in operations costs, $752 million in routine maintenance and $388 million for long-term maintenance. The net of all that? Almost $750 million in the hole over 35 years.”

    People are so desperate to believe you can get something for nothing that they look away from the cooked books and circular logic. No wonder Enron got away with it for so long.

  24. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Bob – I read your link but I could not find the reference to $2.50 gasoline…

    could you please extract it?


    Bob – do you think investors with billions of dollars at stake – would base their earning projections on $2.50 gasoline?

    Why would you think that even if it was claimed by anti-toll road groups?

    Do you believe that people risking their own money would sign on to a plan that assumed $2.50 gasoline?

    re: people will pay for specific projects

    Bob -name A project that more than 50% of the State will pay for.

    It won’t happen at the State level.

    It may happen at local levels for specific projects – like the Fairfax County Parkway….but even then the choice is waiting 10 years or more for the government to grind it’s way to simply START a project or watching private industry turn dirt within months of approval.

    The problem with the current system is that when a referenda is put together… they have to have multiple projects to get enough support but then that drives the cost up so they usually “lowball” the estimates …and then by the time they actually get around to building – the costs have doubled or tripled ..and they have to either dump some projects or come back for more tax increases.

    …and you think people are going to vote for this?

    … We had a transportation referenda locally 3 years ago – not only are there no new roads, no dirt has been turned.. and inflation has cause 1/2 the projects to be dumped.

    … and Bob.. whose is going to sign up for higher taxes now that gasoline is headed towards $5 a gallon?

    … no matter how strongly you are opposed to toll roads -how will you stop a proposal?

    ..If local folks have two choices – higher taxes and a decade for a new road or a new toll road in two years…that they don’t have to pay for unless they want to .. which will they choose?

    no one Bob.. no one.. thinks that Toll Roads are “free”.

    They KNOW that it costs money to use them…. but a road you can pay to use is much better than a road you pay for that does not exist…

    ..and that is the problem with our current government approach to roads.

  25. Anonymous Avatar

    I call a toll a tax. A targeted inequality. A thouroughly dumb idea from end to end. And inefficient.



  26. Look at the story that the Washington Post suddenly discovered:

    Toll-Lanes Contract Could Cost State

    I like how the paper doesn’t care about the aspects of the contract that screw commuters. Its only interest is saving social engineering carpool nonsense.

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