Friday, March 23, 2007

SH 121 Privatization: "Critics argue that the NTTA could have offered more than double that amount if not restricted by the agreement."

Bills target reliance on private toll roads

Legislature: Senate panel moves to bolster North Texas Tollway Authority

March 23, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

A Senate committee approved a handful of bills Thursday designed to reduce the state's reliance on private toll roads, including a measure that would give the North Texas Tollway Authority first dibs on building pay roads in its region.

Another measure passed by the transportation committee would dissolve a "protocol" agreement between the tollway authority and the Texas Department of Transportation.

That agreement prevented the tollway authority from offering a construction bid on the controversial State Highway 121 toll road project in Collin and Denton counties. In exchange, the agency was given a five-year contract to collect tolls on the road.

The Transportation Department later announced a tentative $2.8 billion deal with Cintra, a Spanish company, to build and oversee Highway 121. Critics argue that the tollway authority could have offered more than double that amount if not restricted by the agreement.

"What these bills do is untie their hands and level the playing field for more competition," said Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, who sponsored the legislation.

After the Cintra deal became public, state leaders asked the tollway authority to consider submitting a proposal for the Highway 121 project. Paul Wageman, chairman of the tollway authority's board of directors, said Thursday that the agency has not decided on whether to render a bid.

Another bill passed to the full Senate would double the Texas Department of Transportation's bonding authority from $3 billion to $6 billion, which supporters say could reduce the need for more toll roads.

Committee members did not take action on a proposed two-year moratorium on private toll road contracts. The committee's chairman, Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, said this week that a freeze on such contracts should be used only as "a last resort."

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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