Wednesday, August 08, 2007

"I am convinced there will be no demand for a return of federal funds."

Hutchison: No penalty for state over 121 bidding

August 8, 2007

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2007

The Federal Highway Administration will absolutely not penalize Texas for its handling of the Highway 121 bidding process.

That's the message from Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who said in an interview this afternoon that she called U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters this morning after reading a story in Wednesday's edition of The Dallas Morning News about lingering uncertainty on the issue.

"I am convinced there will be no demand for a return of federal funds," Sen. Hutchison said. "I had talked to her before, during the (state) legislative session when all of this was being dealt with at the time. I told her today that we were told then that there would be no federal penalty at all for what the Legislature was doing. She said she'd call me back and she did within two hours. She said, 'You are absolutely right.'"

Many Texans were outraged when the multi-billion-dollar toll-road deal went to the Spanish company Cintra. When the North Texas Tollway Authority responded by suggesting they could have offered a better deal, many lawmakers seized on their statements and pressured the Texas Transportation Commission to clear the way for a late bid by the NTTA.

The Federal Highway Administration responded by sending Texas officials a series of letters saying the late bid could violate the federal bidding rules and that the state could lose more than $200 million in federal funds if the contract was awarded to NTTA.

Yesterday, in an interview with The Dallas Morning News, FHWA spokesman Ian Grossman said the government had made no decision on whether to seek the return of the federal funds.

He said officials were considering all options, including what has been seen as the most draconian possibility, the demand that Texas send a check back to Washington for the full amount of federal funds that had previously been spent on State Hwy. 121.

Today, Sen. Hutchison said Secretary Peters has expressly promised that the federal government will not penalize Texas in any way as a result of NTTA's.

Regional Transportation Council chairman Oscar Trevino, who is also mayor of North Richland Hills, said he remains convinced NTTA will seal its deal with TxDOT and the RTC to build the road by its Aug. 27 deadline. The specter of lost highway funds, he said, had always appeared to him to be simply a bargaining chip used by state transportation officials who had favored Cintra's bid.

© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co

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