Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Secret Consortium offers to build TTC-35

Secret consortium offers to build part of corridor

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Copyright 2002

Gov. Rick Perry's plan to build toll roads and high-speed rail took a mysterious turn Monday.

Perry, who was in Dallas to discuss his plans for the Trans Texas Corridor with area transportation experts, disclosed that a consortium has offered to build a 250-mile section of the corridor that would connect the Metroplex and San Antonio.

But he said the identities of the businesses or government entities that made the proposal would remain secret for the next few months. According to Texas Department of Transportation rules for the project, bidders will remain anonymous until the Texas Transportation Commission selects the winning proposal.

The secrecy is needed to avoid the appearance that contracts for the estimated $185 billion project are tainted by political favoritism, Perry and other officials said. The commissioners will not know the identities of the winners until after they are selected.

Construction of the first segment of the corridor , which would steer traffic around congested Metroplex highways and offer Fort Worth-area residents an autobahn-style alternative to Interstate 35, could begin next year, state officials said.

The segment would initially include two highway lanes and two rail lines in each direction, with room to expand to 10 lanes and six rail lines. The right of way would be about three times as wide as that of a typical urban freeway.

The state will advertise for other bidders on the same segment of the I-35 reliever route and will select a winner within months, officials said.

Mike Behrens, the Transportation Department's executive director, said transportation staff members will recommend a bidder based on what is the best value, not necessarily the lowest cost.

The winning bidder would enter an exclusive development agreement to build the corridor for the state, using government-backed debt to raise construction money. The debt would be repaid through tolls.

Perry's plan was criticized by his Democratic opponent, Tony Sanchez, who called for a thorough public airing of the corridor plan's details.

"Each part of Rick's plan should be red-flagged," said Sanchez's spokesman, Mark Sanders. "Instead of transportation upgrades, Texas is only going to see increased bond debt, more financial windfalls for more Perry contributors and higher taxes.

"Everyone knows toll is a code word for tax. Generations of hardworking Texans will end up paying for this in the long run. Rick should release the details of his tax plan now."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram: www.dfw.com