"Tolls collected on other NTTA roads and bridges would help pay for the Trinity Toll Road."
DALLAS, TX--In an interview with KERA. Texas's top transportation officials says the proposed Trinity toll road is- financially - not the most attractive toll road in North Texas. On Tuesday Dallas voters will decide whether to kill or continue planning for a high-speed toll road inside the Trinity River levees. In the final part of our continuing series, The Trinity Decision, KERA's Shelley Kofler has more of her conversation with Ric Williamson, and talks about the economics of the road.
When motorists pull onto a road or bridge operated by the North Texas Tollway Authority-the NTTA-, they pay an average 11-cents a mile for their drive.
Right now the NTTA operates 4 toll projects in our region and has many more in the planning stages, including the nine- mile Trinity toll road, whose fate rests with voters on Tuesday.
Trinity toll road supporters, including Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, say the NTTA has committed to building their road.
Leppert: They feel very confident that it pencils out from an investment standpoint. They believe it is a very important project, an important project for this region in total. And they're committed."
The commitment is spelled out in a 1999 agreement between the NTTA and the City of Dallas. It says unless and until the (tollway )Authority determines the Trinity Parkway as a turnpike, a toll project, is not feasible, the City shall not advance any alternative.
So, is the Trinity Toll road economically feasible? Would the tolls collected be enough to repay the bonds, the money the NTTA would have to borrow for construction? The NTTA currently estimates that amount to be $1-billion dollars.
Ric Williamson, Chairman of the Texas Transportation Commission raised questions during a recent interview with KERA.
Williamson: "The last time I revisited this particular area my conclusion and the conclusion of my staff was it is not the most attractive toll road in North Texas."
Kofler: It doesn't have enough volume? It doesn't connect with the right roads?
Williamson: Both. The volume limitations, the connecting points and the probability you can't create a high enough rate of speed on a congested toll road all suggest the cash flow wouldn't be as healthy. I don't want to say it wouldn't cash flow. I want to put it in perspective. It is not the most attractive toll road possible in North Texas.
Sam Lopez I am not sure what information he is looking at
Sam Lopez is the spokesman for the Tollway Authority. He agreed to an interview after KERA attempted for three weeks to interview agency chairman Paul Wageman. Lopez says Wageman is declining interviews until after the Nov. 6 election.
Lopez: "There could be a scenario where our board would say we cannot build this, but at this moment no one can answer that question. We just don't know. Sure it's a possibility. We have a very strong nine-member board and believe me they will be looking at those financials."
Lopez says the most recent study detailing revenue generated by a toll road within the levees dates back to 2000. The NTTA was encouraged by that information.
Lopez: "Those 2000 numbers are enough for the NTTA to say this project, there is enough feasibility for this project. We shall proceed with the environmental process."
But that study was done three years before the city adopted the current toll road route. Before the cost of construction tripled to $1.3 billion.
Although hard numbers can't be nailed down until a road is approved at many levels, the region's chief transportation planner Michael Morris wants to leave no doubt: the financing can be worked out.
Morris: "They will bond it based on anticipated revenue from users and if they need additional money which I'm not sure if they do they'll use the rest of the money from system financing within their institution."
That means tolls collected on other NTTA roads and bridges would help pay for the Trinity Toll Road.
Morris says that's the way the George Bush Freeway and the Dallas North Tollway were financed.
But all this speculation is far in the future for toll road supporters who simply want to keep their planned toll road alive, while opponents hope to make it unfeasible by killing it at the ballot box.
Shelley Kofler, KERA News
To view video of a canoe trip on the Trinity, and to find all the stories in our series go to KERA-dot-org and click on the Trinity Decision link. Then continue listening to KERA 90.1 at 6:00 pm tonight when we'll air a half hour discussion on the toll road issue. KERA 13, will air a televised discussion at 7:30 tomorrow on Think.
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