Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Carona's Office: SH 130 project will probably be exempt from the freeze.

Cintra-Zachry to finish SH 130


By Daniel K. Lai
Taylor Daily Press
Copyright 2007

The Texas Department of Transportation recently signed a contract that will complete SH 130, choosing the international group under contract to build the Trans-Texas Corridor.

The first 49-mile section of the toll road is being built by Lone Star Infrastructure, a consortium of more than a dozen firms led by Fluor Corporation, Balfour Beatty Construction and T.J. Lambrecht Co. That section stretches from I-35 in Georgetown to US 183 southeast of Austin. The state opened 29 miles of the road, from Georgetown to US-290 in East Austin, at the end of 2006 and the rest should open by the end of this year.

However, LSI won't be building the final leg of the toll road.

The TxDOT reached a final contract agreement with Concesiones de Infraestructures de Transporte, S.A. (Cintra) and Zachry Construction Corporation to build and operate the SH 130 tollway southeast of Austin for 50 years.

The tollway is expected to open by late 2011, joining the section built by LSI.

Together, SH 130 will give drivers a 90-mile bypass of I-35 congestion from north of Georgetown to I-10 east of San Antonio.

Taylor Economic Development Corporation Director John Nelson said the SH 130 corridor will help bring an economic boom to cities both directly on the corridor's route and surrounding cities, including Hutto and Taylor.

“Most people are concerned about how quickly and efficiently they can transport goods to market,” he said. “The toll roads will help that. We are seeing their effect directly in Hutto but in Taylor it is certainly beneficial to be eight miles from the toll road.”

As traffic flow on I-35 continues to grow, Nelson said the corridor provides a more efficient alternative for the transportation of goods.

“We see a lot of traffic coming through Taylor on SH 95 already because it is less congested than I-35,” he said. “I-35 between Georgetown and San Marcos is fairly congested and it will continue to worsen even with the new roads coming into play. They (TXDOT) are telling us the toll roads won't alleviate congestion but serve to maintain the status quo. If that is the case, with traffic on (Interstate) 35 worsening, it will impact economic development negatively, so the toll roads are a good alternative.”

According to the agreement with Cintra-Zachry, the state will get at least $25 million up front and a minimum of 4.6 percent of the road's toll revenue initially with an option to increase its share later.

In addition, the contract sets out an area extending several miles on each side of SH 130 and stipulates the state would have to pay Cintra-Zachry if improvements to state roads in that area or new state roads drew traffic away from the tollway; I-35 is exempt from the agreement.

Several grassroots groups throughout Central Texas have expressed disapproval with the state's contract with Cintra-Zachry, which was also awarded the contract to construct the Trans-Texas Corridor 35 project.

“The Texas Transportation Commission authorized TxDOT staff to enter into discussions with Cintra-Zachry to produce a master development and financial plan for the TTC. Work on the plan has been ongoing separately, but parallel to, the environmental process. They have not been given a green light to construct anything,” Dieter Billek, TxDOT director of advanced project development, said.

On Wednesday, the Texas Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee passed Senate Bill 1267, which places a two-year freeze on toll road contracts with private companies and establishes a committee to study the long-term affects of public and private toll agreements.

According to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst's office, the bill would effectively halt Trans-Texas Corridor construction for two years.

Dewhurst said he's going to wait on the bill, to see if lawmakers and agency representatives can come up with an acceptable compromise.

“I'm going to hold that bill for awhile, and see what kind of progress the chairman (Sen. John Carona, R-Dist. 16) makes in his negotiations with the House,” he said in a written statement.

Carona's office said if the legislation is passed by both the House and Senate, the SH 130 project will probably be exempt from the freeze.

© 2007 Taylor Daily Press: www.taylordailypress.net

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