Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Cintra's U.S. director: "We'll keep fighting."

Executive says toll proposal stands up well against NTTA's offer

May 15, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

Spanish company Cintra isn't backing down in its quest to land the lucrative State Highway 121 toll road project, despite an aggressive 11th-hour challenge from a homegrown bidder.
What's Next

The North Texas Tollway Authority must submit a detailed, formal bid to the Regional Transportation Council by May 25. Officials will evaluate the bid and present it to the council, which will weigh it against the state's tentative deal with Cintra. It will then make a recommendation to the Texas Department of Transportation.

North Texas Tollway Authority board members approved a belated bid last week that includes $3.3 billion in cash payments for the rights to build and run Highway 121 in Collin and Denton counties.

NTTA executives have circulated comparison charts showing how they believe their bid trumps the state's tentative Highway 121 deal with Madrid-based Cintra, which has offered $2.8 billion in cash.

Cintra kept quiet about the NTTA's proposal last week. But on Monday, a top executive with Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A., said the tollway authority's figures are not as clear-cut as they may seem.

"We'll keep fighting," José López de Fuentes, Cintra's U.S. director, said in a meeting with the editorial board of the The Dallas Morning News.

"We think we have a proposal which is much better," Mr. López de Fuentes said. "We understand it's complex to analyze. We understand there may be people who are not interested in understanding."

He said Cintra won't make a higher bid because his company's offer is still superior, though he acknowledged that the NTTA has yet to submit its finalized bid.

North Texas is running tens of billions of dollars behind on its future transportation funding needs, and Mr. López de Fuentes said the NTTA ultimately can cover only a fraction of the region's transportation deficit.

By spending billions of dollars on Highway 121, which has already attracted $2.8 billion in private money, Mr. López de Fuentes said the NTTA is essentially taking away from the pool of money it could instead be spending on other regional road projects.

"It doesn't make sense," Mr. López de Fuentes said. "The region is topping our bid with their own money."

NTTA officials have said the tollway authority can submit a better bid for Highway 121 because the state-chartered agency qualifies for cheaper interest rates and does not have to turn a profit.

Tollway authority representatives have said they are confident their Highway 121 bid would not hurt the agency's ability to deliver future toll road projects, noting that 30 bankers and credit analysts have scoured their proposal.

As for Cintra's comments on Monday, NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman said, "It's just not accurate to describe our money as the region's money. The money is generated by the toll payers."

The NTTA must submit its formal proposal by May 25 to the 40-member Regional Transportation Council, which must sort out the details in the dueling proposals.

Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said last week that before any final decision, the NTTA and Cintra will get a chance to make their cases to the council.

"The RTC has a lot of hard work to do," Mr. Morris said. "And the best way to do it is to permit the parties involved to have a question-and-answer period."

State lawmakers asked transportation officials to allow the NTTA back into the Highway 121 bidding process in March after critics raised a concerns about the Cintra deal, including the length of the 50-year contract as well as the idea of sending off toll revenue to a foreign company.


© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co www.dallasnews.com

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