Sunday, February 25, 2007

SH 121 bill will be awarded to Swedish, Australian or Spanish firms

Lucrative toll contract for 121 to be awarded

February 25, 2007

Tony Hartzel
Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

It's a billion-dollar-plus decision time for the State Highway 121 toll road in Denton and Collin counties.

On Tuesday, regional leaders and the Texas Department of Transportation plan to announce the winning bidder for the Highway 121 toll road.

Three groups – all of which prominently feature toll road companies with Swedish, Spanish or Australian connections – submitted proposals to operate the road for an estimated 50 years. Transportation officials have been evaluating the proposals in the fierce competition for months.

The Highway 121 toll road, which will run from Central Expressway west to the Business 121 merge in Coppell, has been described as one of the most potentially lucrative in the nation.

The winning bidder is conservatively expected to bring at least $2 billion in upfront payments to the region, and hundreds of millions of dollars in shared toll revenue over the life of the contract. The money will go toward several major regional projects, including the expansion of Interstate 35E and FM423 in Denton County.

Although the tolls will be in place for decades, local officials say, the decision will allow them to handle the population growth in some of the fastest-growing areas of the country.

"We are having to deal with more and more traffic congestion," Denton County Judge Mary Horn said. "It could get to the point that traffic affects the local economy, and we don't want that to happen."

The $2 billion payment is based upon toll rates set by regional leaders and the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the area planning agency. When the road opens fully in 2010, motorists will pay an average 14.5 cents per mile to travel on Highway 121. The rate eventually will vary based on the time of day, and it can be raised every two years to keep up with inflation.

The first portion of the toll road from Coppell east to Carrollton opened last year. The next section, from Carrollton through The Colony and ending at Hillcrest Road in Frisco, should open in early 2008. The final section from Hillcrest to Central in McKinney should open in mid-2010. Highway 121 interchanges at the Dallas North Tollway and Central should open in 2011.

Got an opinion about the Highway 121 tolling plan? The Texas Department of Transportation is holding a public hearing Monday night. The debate and decision about whether to place tolls on the highway occurred last year, but the state wants to hear about environmental concerns.

The meeting will be at Legacy Church, 4501 Legacy Drive in Plano. It will start with an open house at 6 p.m.; a presentation and public comments start at 7 p.m.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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