Saturday, March 12, 2005

Stall: "There's far more structure in this agreement than we were led to believe."

Contract signed for toll road

March 12, 2005

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2005

A firm hired by the state to create a toll road from Dallas-Fort Worth to San Antonio will get first dibs on performing at least $400 million of the $6 billion project itself, rather than putting the work out to bid.

The arrangement was among the details included in a contract signed Friday by executives of the firm, Cintra Zachry L.P., and the Texas Department of Transportation.

The contract formalizes the relationship between the state and Cintra Zachry, which in December agreed to build the 316-mile leg of the Trans -Texas Corridor with private funds in exchange for the right to collect and keep tolls for 50 years.

A clause in the contract gives the state the option of bidding out most of the road work to other companies, but Cintra Zachry gets first refusal on some of them.

"We have an opportunity for competition throughout this process," said Phillip Russell, director of the Transportation Department's turnpike division.

The project will create tens of thousands of jobs during the next six years, said Rafael del Pino, executive chairman of Grupo Ferrovial, Cintra Zachry's Madrid-based parent company. The 97-page contract details the relationship between the firm and the state, and creates a process for both parties to resolve any disputes over design, financing or other issues.

The agreement also identifies the Transportation Department as the lead agency for environmental studies, and provides guidance for both parties in the event part or all of the road can't be built because of environmental or other concerns. The agreement doesn't describe the toll road's route, nor the amount of tolls that motorists will pay. Those decisions will be made in a series of smaller contracts after the environmental study and a master plan are complete.

David Stall of Fayetteville, co-founder of Corridor Watch, a group that opposes the Trans -Texas Corridor , said the state rushed into the agreement, and many of the provisions could have waited until after a master plan was completed, perhaps in 12 to 18 months. The group opposes the corridor on the grounds that it focuses on company profits rather than transportation problems, and requires the state to buy up too much land for toll road right-of-way.

"There's far more structure in this agreement than we were led to believe," he said.

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