Thursday, March 23, 2006

Corridor veers east to corral concession fees.

Official: Steer Trans-Texas Corridor east of I-35E

March 23, 2006

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2006

AUSTIN – The Trans-Texas Corridor would be more profitable if it were built on the east side of Interstate 35E, a project official told a state committee Wednesday.

In the next few weeks, state officials will probably unveil a map outlining a 10-mile-wide study area, stretching from the Red River to the Rio Grande, where the Trans-Texas Corridor could be located.

Initial traffic and toll revenue predictions by project developer Cintra-Zachry show that an eastern route has the greatest potential.

"We have given the state of Texas our view of where the corridor could be done more economically and faster. In our view, there is going to be more traffic on the east side of Dallas than on the west side of Fort Worth," said José M. López, director of U.S. and Latin American operations for Cintra.

Mr. López spoke to the Trans-Texas Corridor Advisory Committee for the first time Wednesday.

An easterly route – which could go as far east as Kaufman and Terrell – could begin construction by 2010, while a route west of Fort Worth as far as Weatherford might not be needed until 2025 or later, according to Cintra's preliminary plans.

The state has been reviewing 180 variations of the corridor route for months. Officials expect to make a final decision on the route by summer 2007. Its location could change noticeably after public hearings this summer, state officials say.

North Texas leaders have expressed concern that the corridor might draw existing businesses farther outside the urban area, creating even greater demand for roads in the new areas.
They have proposed some interim projects to connect the urban area to the future corridor and keep traffic and development closer to the heart of North Texas.

These projects, which include a major extension of State Highway 360 and the southern portion of Loop 9 through southern Dallas County, also would serve more immediate traffic demands.

"Anything outside the area to any degree is going to create demand for increased infrastructure that we cannot currently fund nor can we fund in the foreseeable future," said Grady Smithey, a member of the Regional Transportation Council who also serves on the corridor advisory committee.

The region is united in its concerns, said Mr. Smithey, adding: "This is the first time I have ever seen Dallas and Fort Worth in agreement on anything."

North Texas leaders' ideas for corridor connections will be reviewed after the map outlining the 10-mile-wide study area is released, said Phillip Russell, director of the Texas Turnpike Authority division of the state Transportation Department.

While Cintra has proposed the order in which corridor segments should be built, the state can reprioritize the project order. But changing priorities could come at a cost. Cintra-Zachry has pledged to pay the state $1.2 billion in concession fees if it is awarded an estimated $7.2 billion in corridor projects.

"If we move projects, the concession fee may not be there," Mr. Russell said.


© 2006 The Dallas Morning News Co