Friday, March 26, 2004

I-35 bypass would be the first leg of Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor

Losers on I-35 corridor bids may still get reimbursement by state

March 25, 2004

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2004

Companies that aren't selected to build the Interstate 35 bypass from Fort Worth-Dallas to San Antonio may still be reimbursed for their time.

Those competing to build the bypass would be paid for the time they spent researching the project, even if their work does not win, according to a proposal that the Texas Transportation Commission will consider during today's monthly meeting.

The I-35 bypass would be the first leg of Gov. Rick Perry's Trans Texas Corridor , which would use toll roads, train lines and utilities to speed the movement of freight and passengers across Texas . The corridor would span 4,000 miles and be built over 50 years.

Critics say it's inappropriate to use public money to pay companies for work that isn't good enough to win a bid.

But by paying companies that submit losing proposals, the state reserves the right to incorporate some of their ideas into the project, state Transportation Department spokeswoman Gaby Garcia said.

"They go to a lot of effort, time and resources to put together these proposals," she said. "It's not just copies in a 3-inch binder."

It wouldn't be the first time the department paid a loser. The losing proposals on Texas 130, an Austin-area toll road under construction since 2002, were paid $1.3 million.

On another Austin-area road, Texas 45 Southeast, up to $250,000 has been authorized to pay the losers.

Still, paying for unsuccessful work is a relatively new concept in Texas , although it is common practice in other areas of the United States where a single company is hired under a comprehensive development agreement to oversee a major project on behalf of a government, state officials said.

"Otherwise, the companies don't recover anything they put in," said Lawrence Olsen, executive vice president of the Austin-based Texas Good Roads and Transportation Association. "It's a very minuscule amount compared to what companies spend on it."

The three consortiums of companies vying to build the I-35 bypass are Flour/Goldman Sachs; Trans Texas Express L.L.C.; and Cinta (Concesiones de Infraestructuras de transporte S.A.) of Spain.

Financial terms of the I-35 bypass bids will be kept secret until later this year or early 2005, when the commission is expected to select a winner.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen of Texas , a government watchdog group, reacted with shock when told of the proposal to pay also-rans.

"It's a mistake, because we're rewarding people not for performance or for having the winning ideas, but we're rewarding people for simply going through the motions of filling out the paper," he said.

ONLINE: Trans Texas Corridor ,

Gordon Dickson, (817) 685-3816

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