Wednesday, November 21, 2007

'Hearts and minds in the right place' ?

Tollway authority promises to meet deadline on Texas 161


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Copyright 2007

PLANO -- North Texas Tollway Authority officials vowed Tuesday to finish negotiations over the long-term value of the proposed Texas 161 toll road by a Dec. 21 deadline, a step considered crucial to getting it open in time for the 2011 Super Bowl in Arlington.

"We're going to meet as much as is necessary. ... We will be meeting over the holiday weekend," tollway authority executive director Jorge Figueredo said. "We agreed to do this with our hearts and minds in the right place."

Texas 161 would run parallel to Texas 360, connecting Texas 183 in Irving to Interstate 20 in Grand Prairie.

Last week, Texas Department of Transportation officials warned that the tollway authority would not be given a chance to build Texas 161 unless the two agencies agreed upon the long-term value of the road by Dec. 21. At the time, Figueredo worried that his agency wouldn't have time to study traffic modeling data.

State law gives the tollway authority first dibs on building the road, which planners say is needed to relieve north-south traffic and could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in toll revenue for other road work. Negotiations over the long-term value, which would determine how much the tollway authority pays upfront to collect tolls for 50 years, have dragged on for months.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments is serving as a mediator of sorts in hopes of getting the bureaucratic work completed.

In other action Tuesday, tollway board members:
Unanimously picked board member Bill Meadows of Fort Worth as vice chairman. Chairman Paul Wageman is from Plano. Board member Alan Sims of Cedar Hill said it's important to give the western Metroplex a leadership role. Several projects are planned in the Fort Worth area, including Southwest Parkway.
Learned that bond anticipation notes totaling nearly $3.5 billion were sold Tuesday morning for yet another project -- the Texas 121 toll road north of Grapevine. The move signals that the tollway authority can close the deal by a Dec. 1 deadline.

After closing, officials said, the tollway authority will pay more than $3 billion upfront to the Transportation Department and the Regional Transportation Council for use on other transportation projects.

GORDON DICKSON, 817-685-3816

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