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


"We can build this, and you are going to see some of it pretty quick."

Statewide corridor plan picks up speed

First building proposal arrives for Perry's transportation network


July 9, 2002
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2002

The state has its first customers for a program to build toll road, railroad and pipeline corridors from border to border.

A group of private firms on Monday submitted the first proposal to build one of the so-called Trans Texas Corridors , a planned 4,000-mile network 1,000 to 1,200 feet wide across the state.

The consortium proposes building a 250-mile corridor paralleling Interstate 35 from the Texas -Oklahoma border east of Dallas into Central Texas via the planned Texas 130 toll road east of I-35. The corridor would end south of San Antonio.

That roughly matches one of the state's four priority routes sketched out two weeks ago, although it ends shy of Laredo or the Rio Grande Valley, where state officials want corridors built.

Special highway lanes for trucks, passenger and freight rail lines and pipelines would need to be added near Texas 130 for the Dallas-San Antonio corridor to match the state's vision. Construction of the first 50 miles of Texas 130 is expected to begin in early 2003 and finish by December 2007.

The corridors would follow Texas 130's model, with private firms building a project the state will own, but how the state will pay for the corridors has not been specified.

Gov. Rick Perry, who proposed the corridors while campaigning for election this fall, announced the construction plan in a cargo warehouse at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, near the planned Texas 130 route. He was joined by several Central Texas politicians and Robert Nichols, one of three Transportation Commission members.

"We can build this, and you are going to see some of it pretty quick," Nichols said.

The governor also announced that the state will set aside $10 million in discretionary transportation money to help start regional mobility authorities, bodies that eventually could issue bonds to build toll roads.

The first authority is expected to form in Williamson and Travis counties, which would receive an unspecified amount of money for environmental, traffic and other studies needed for construction to start on a project.

"We are going to help them and make sure they get off to a good start because it is going to be a model for elsewhere," Nichols said.

Regional mobility authorities would be in charge of such projects as a toll road segment of U.S. 183 but not the statewide corridors . Those would mirror Texas 130's contract, which allows firms to begin work while engineers are finishing designs on the remainder of a project, thereby speeding up construction.

The identity of the consortium behind Monday's proposal is being kept secret by the state until the transportation commissioners decide whether to pursue the proposal. Other firms could compete to build the same corridor if the state pursues the idea, leaving the state to pick the winning team.

The consortium "includes three major, well-recognized highway constructors, two very large engineering firms and a recognized financial team," Nichols said.

Sources familiar with the proposal said two of the firms are Granite Construction Inc. and J.D. Abrams Inc., which were part of a consortium that narrowly lost the Texas 130 contract this year. Austin-based J.D. Abrams already holds the most expensive contract in Central Texas , for the $88 million interchange at I-35 and Ben White Boulevard.

The state is expecting proposals soon to build some of the other corridors , Perry said.

All 4,000 miles would cost between $145.2 billion and $183.5 billion and take 50 years to complete. The four priority routes parallel Interstates 35, 37, 10, 45 and the proposed Interstate 69 through South and East Texas .

Perry said he expects that private firms will help pay for the corridors . State money, bonds and tolls also would factor in.

The state also plans to use a statewide mobility fund that voters approved in November, although it doesn't have any money in it, as campaign officials for Perry's Democratic opponent, Tony Sanchez, noted.

"This monster proposal is either going to be paid for by brand-new toll fees or old-fashioned tax hikes, and Rick owes Texans a detailed explanation -- no smoke, no mirrors," Sanchez spokesman Mark Sanders said.

kdaniel@statesman.com; 445-3618

Copyright (c) 2002 Austin American-Statesman

Austin American-Statesman: www.statesman.com


Perry and Williamson: $10 Billion secret bid on first segment is proof that Corridor will work

Firms put in Trans Texas bids

Officials say plan to fund toll roads, rail lines will work

July 9, 2002

W. Gardner Selby, Austin Bureau
San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2002

Six firms submitted a $10 billion bid Monday to build a multilane toll road plus high speed passenger rail lines from Denison, north of Dallas, to south of San Antonio, all within a dozen years, state officials said.

Gov. Rick Perry and Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson called the bid proof that Perry's Trans Texas Corridor plan to privately fund 4,000 miles of toll roads and rail lines across Texas will work.

Perry outlined the 50-year plan - estimated to cost between $145 billion and $183 billion - in January.

Last month, the transportation commission endorsed four priority corridors for the plan, including one from Denison to Brownsville.

Referring to the bid, Williamson said Monday: "It's road, rail, the whole enchilada. It's what we wanted."

He said bids to build toll projects from northern Harris County to Fort Worth and from Laredo to Corpus Christi and Houston are expected soon.

Williamson said the project would run east of Dallas parallel to I-35 past Austin to Seguin before wrapping under San Antonio, with links to Texas 130, a planned Central Texas loop, as well as Kelly AFB.

The Texas Department of Transportation declined to reveal details, including the identity of the bidding firms.

Under state law, aides said, details can become public only after the department's staff assess whether to recommend the proposal to the three transportation commissioners.

At that time, other builders will be given a chance to offer bids.

The bidding firms say they can complete portions of the project within five years of start-up, with the entire project done in 12 years, Williamson said.

Williamson said the proposal envisions four traffic lanes in each direction with fifth and sixth lanes being built as toll proceeds build.

He said four rail lines are also in the proposal with a commuter rail line.

A spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez, whose ads portray Perry as swayed by campaign donations, was not won over.

"You've got an ethically challenged governor who has what appears to be a sealed bid for a massive construction program sitting on his desk while he's soliciting campaign contributions," spokesman Mark Sanders said.

Joseph Krier, president and chief executive officer of the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, called the timetable "historic speed."

On a related front, Perry said the state will set aside $10 million so communities including San Antonio can research whether to create regional mobility authorities with the power to plan and build local toll links.


© 2002 San Antonio Express-News: www.mysanantonio.com