Monday, July 17, 2006

Impasse between HCTRA and TxDOT broken for the time being

Deal lets county continue toll road expansion plans

July 17, 2006,

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2006

An impasse that had stymied three local toll road expansions has been broken by an agreement that will let the county keep working on the projects without liability while negotiating a fee for use of state right-of-way.

The Texas Department of Transportation has asked the Harris County Toll Road Authority to pay more than $1 billion upfront, plus an unspecified share of future toll revenue, to use TxDOT land for about 80 miles of extensions to the Sam Houston Tollway, Grand Parkway and U.S. 290.

County infrastructure director Art Storey called the amount "surprising and outrageous," but TxDOT said that by letting the county build and operate the roads, it was forgoing the opportunity to do so itself or to sell that right for profit.

Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said Monday that Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack asked Gov. Rick Perry to "get things moving" and that Perry agreed.

A letter Monday from TxDOT District Engineer Gary Trietsch to Storey proposes that the county's consultants "go back to work" on the projects.

That would be subject to an "understanding" that if the state and county cannot reach agreement and another entity eventually takes on the job, TxDOT will reimburse the county for the value of work done to that point.

© 2006 Houston Chronicle: