Friday, April 18, 2008

"The compromise will give title to the road to the NTTA, and it will be permitted to collect tolls on the highway indefinitely."

TxDOT, tollway agency reach deal on Highway 161

April 18, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

North Texas Tollway Authority and Texas Department of Transportation leaders announced a deal Friday that they said will put highway crews to work building the State Highway 161 toll road as soon as Monday.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst met with leaders of both agencies and key North Texas senators Friday to ramp up the pressure to reach an agreement after negotiations over how much the toll road was worth broke down earlier this week.

The result, leaders of both agencies said, is a plan that will reduce the amount of money the region sees as an upfront payment for a toll contract that will run in perpetuity. In return, the region will receive 50 percent of all net proceeds from the toll road after the first 52 years.

"An agreement has been reached," Lt. Gov. Dewhurst announced as he emerged from the meeting Friday, held in the offices of Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas. "I want to congratulate TxDOT, and its executive director, along with NTTA for reaching an agreement that should allow this project to get started on time."

The terms of the agreement will require approval by both the Texas Transportation Commission, which meets next week in Austin, and the NTTA board of directors. Sen. Carona said he expects the NTTA board to meet to approve the terms over the weekend.

TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz said the agreement reached Friday appeared well within authority already delegated by the Commission, and said he expects the terms to be ratified. NTTA chairman Paul Wageman also said his fellow board members will need to vote, but said he fully expects the board to approve the terms.

A key sticking point in negotiations had been the length of the toll contract. NTTA had agreed to cover $860 million in construction costs, plus play $298 million upfront to the region to fund construction on other roads. But it had insisted that it be allowed to own and operate the toll road "in perpetuity."

TxDOT said allowing NTTA to do so made the contract worth significantly more than the nearly $1.2 billion total price NTTA was offering. TxDOT insisted that any term beyond 52 years had to be negotiated seperately, citing state rules that forbid private toll operators from signing leases longer than that.

The compromise will give title to the road to the NTTA, and it will be permitted to collect tolls on the highway indefinitely. Beginning in year 53, the agency will pay the state half of the revenues received, minus operating costs. The state will also split all costs for major repairs and rebuilding that will be needed.

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