Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Williams Brothers Construction and Dannenbaum Engineering make unsolicited P3 bid to build part of the Grand Parkway as a toll road

County considers toll road plan for Grand Parkway

Public-private partnership is proposed to build an outermost loop

Dec. 4, 2007

Houston Chronicle
Copyright 2007

A joint venture led by a road construction company and an engineering firm has asked Harris County to enter into a public-private partnership to build and operate the 197-mile Grand Parkway as a toll road.

Commissioners Court will consider today whether it wants to study the unsolicited offer to undertake the $5.3 billion project to build an outermost ring skirting the metropolitan area.

"It's intriguing because we have not seen details of the proposal," said Art Storey, director of the county's public infrastructure department.

"It appears that it would allow us to retain some control of the project, (rely on) the local construction community and get financing for the project guaranteed."

If the court decides to go ahead with a partnership between the county and Grand Parkway Constructors, the joint venture would need approval from the Texas Department of Transportation.

Grand Parkway Constructors' principals are Williams Brothers Construction and Dannenbaum Engineering.

Executives at both companies did not return calls Monday.

Storey said the joint venture proposal envisions the Harris County Toll Road Authority serving as the project's managing partner.

Under a partnership, the county and the joint venture could agree to have the toll road authority operate the Grand Parkway and retain some of the revenue, Storey said.

The idea of a Grand Parkway encircling the metropolitan area outside Highway 6 has been around for decades. Critics long have contended that it is a highway sought by road builders and developers who intend to build subdivisions and strip malls in the still undeveloped areas.

Regardless of one's stance in that debate, the Legislature and TxDOT have decided the Grand Parkway will be built.

Delvin Dennis, TxDOT's deputy district engineer in the Houston area, said some areas where the highway would be built are rural now, but will not be in 10 to 20 years.

It would be easier and cheaper to build the road now before the largely rural area is developed, he said.

TxDOT officials hope to have agreed on a plan for building the Grand Parkway by the end of next year, Dennis said.

First, the agency will negotiate with Harris, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Waller and Montgomery counties over potential toll rates on the road that will go through the five counties. That process should be completed by March, Dennis said.

TxDOT then will ask the Houston-Galveston Area Council to approve tentative rates and future rate hikes.

Based on that information, TxDOT will calculate the market value of the Grand Parkway — an assignment mandated by the Legislature earlier this year.

With the market value in hand, TxDOT will solicit bids from a public entity, public-private partnerships or private groups to build and operate the toll road.

Under state law, the toll road authority has the right of first refusal, Dennis said.

Storey said the authority would be interested in operating a toll road on the Grand Parkway between Interstate 10 and U.S. 290 or other parts of the toll road that would be heavily traveled.

"But a lot of the miles on other parts of the road wouldn't generate revenue to pay for themselves for a long time," he said.


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