"TxDOT is guaranteeing these foreign companies a 22-percent return on their investment, which could be disastrous for us."
By Mike Raye
A joint resolution from five local governments to ensure local control of the fate of State Highway 121 and its future as a toll road is a punch-drunk fighter stumbling around the ring, with a knockout blow bearing down on it.
Months in the making, it all could be wiped out Nov. 14 when the Regional Transportation Council meets with local Texas Department of Transportation officials to hear the resolution's fate.
According to State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, the advance word in Austin is TxDOT will reject the proposal, City Manager George Purefoy told the city council Tuesday night.
"The state is selling its birthright for a short-term fix," he said. "This is the saddest day of my life for the state of Texas."
TxDOT rates 121 as the number-one-rated road in the state for potential revenue, Purefoy explained. It is not a fact lost on state highway officials grappling with the disparity of transportation needs and the money to pay for projects. It is an agency in panic mode, looking for any solution, including selling the road's building rights to foreign companies, Purefoy said.
"TxDOT sees this as a cash cow and a way to pay for other projects around the state," he said. "They are guaranteeing these foreign companies a 22-percent return on their investment, which could be disastrous for us. There is a distinct possibility that tolls could be set as high as 30 cents per mile if they go that way,"
"They came to us and said they couldn't find a solution and they asked us to find a solution," Council member Tony Felker grumbled. "Then they go and reject what we brought forth."
Council colleague Maher Maso, the city's mayor pro tem, was equally indignant.
"For them to arbitrarily do this to the cities that say they don't want (tolls on 121) is just wrong," Maso said.
The cities of Frisco, Allen, McKinney, and Plano, along with Collin County, presented a resolution to TxDOT Sept. 30 for constructing, financing, and tolling 121 from the Dallas North Tollway east to U.S. Highway 75 (Central Expressway), including highway interchanges at Central and the Tollway. The resolution would authorize the five governments to ensure tolls - admittedly necessary to build the road - would be set no higher than necessary to pay off debt service on bonds issued to pay the costs of the 121 Tollway Project, to operate and maintain it, and to maintain its service roads. Any money brought in over that amount would be guaranteed to stay in the area to be used for the four cities' and the county's needs.
The state doesn't want to let go of its potential money-making machine, Purefoy said, meaning the conclusion is all but foregone. The only thing left for the five governments to do is go into a salvage mode.
"If this thing is going to get rammed down our throats, there are only two ways to go," Purefoy, the author of the original incarnation of the resolution said. "One is to be defiant to the end. The other is to try and strike the best business deal you can."
The next city council meeting - Nov. 15 - comes on the heels of the RTC and TxDOT meeting. The council will then decide whether to pass a resolution formally opposing tolling 121 altogether.
©Star Community Newspapers 2005