Ric Williamson: Hearing will end with a 'contractual decision.'
June 27, 2007
By Danny Gallagher
Even though members of the Texas Transportation Commission are “uncomfortable” talking about the proposals for State Highway 121 toll lanes before they vote on their choice, they said they are encouraged by the competition.
“I think what that has demonstrated is competition is a good thing and I think the winners will ultimately be the residents of that region,” TTC Commissioner Ned S. Holmes said. “I think the process is working.”
The TTC’s expected vote today could decide whether Cintra Concesiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte or the North Texas Tollway Authority wins the contract for the lucrative roadway construction project. Last week, the Regional Transportation Commission voted 27-10 to recommend NTTA’s bid, despite the support Cintra’s proposal received from the Texas Department of Transportation and Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accounting firm hired to examine both bids.
Ric Williamson, TTC chairman, said he didn’t want to comment on either proposal because today’s hearing will end with a “contractual decision.”
“The decision we make [today] is in effect a contractual decision, and this department has a long history of not permitting outside influence on contractual decisions,” he said.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Wednesday sent a letter to Williamson stating his support for the NTTA bid.
“I think the legislature and TxDOT can work together to solve the state’s transportation problems, but local control must be at the heart of these important decisions,” he said in the letter. “I support the RTC’s vote to award the SH 121 project to NTTA and hope the commission will honor the region’s decision.”
Williamson said the commission doesn’t believe in siding with private projects for all of the state’s projects.
“It should be noted, we don’t think every asset needs to be built or should necessarily be financed by the private sector,” Williamson said. “We don’t think every one should have private equity.”
He said that using competition to drive down the cost has been one of the commission’s driving strategies.
“We’ve always felt since we adopted the strategic plan that if we were following at least one of the strategies and/or one of the goals, we would be successful in solving the state’s transportation problems,” Williamson said. “They’re all equally important and, on an individual basis, some may be more important than others.”
However, because of legislative involvement, regional control became a higher priority, Williamson said.
“Because of the inordinate amount of legislative interest generated last session, the notion of regional planning and local execution becomes the dominant strategy in the execution,” Williamson said.
Holmes said the principals they’ve set out for themselves, not the pressures surrounding the project, must guide their decision on who gets to build SH 121.
“Clearly, the pressures come from all points on the compass and you’re not immune from listening,” Holmes said. “But ultimately, you have to follow the principals you’ve set out.”
Contact Danny Gallagher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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