Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Credit crunch buckles Trinity Park Toll Road plans

Financial upheaval puts highways on hold


Copyright 2008

DALLAS — The financial headlines don't look good, and the news is having an impact on North Texas highways.

The North Texas Tollway Authority has tabled a decision to expand State Highway 161 as a toll road. Why?

It's too hard to borrow money needed to fund construction.

NTTA Chairman Paul Wageman says this is not the time to test the market.

"We've been in a turbulent credit market really since July and August of last year," Wageman said. "The compaction of these significant activites in the last four days have really caused every issuer ... to really evaluate where we're at."

SMU professor Mike Davis said if the NTTA takes a risk to build Highway 161 now and the market doesn't improve, tolls could be forced higher to get them out of debt.

"You should care, because it may mean the roads get delayed," Davis said. "It may mean when the roads get built, the financing could get expensive — which could mean higher tolls."

The NTTA says Highway 161 could be a big money-maker, and that revenue would directly fund other projects in the region, like the Trinity Toll Road.

So if the NTTA doesn't build 161, they don't get your toll money — and those tolls, along with Highway 121 — will pay in large part for the Trinity project.

"We do need that so we can leverage the system — so we can go build the Trinity and others like it around the region that will need subsidy from the NTTA," Wageman said.

The NTTA has until October to decide if the Highway 161 project is worth the risk. Only then can Wageman literally afford to look ahead.

"We'll consider Trinity when it's appropriate," he said. "Right now, it's just not right."

But Trinity backers, like Dallas District 3 Councilman David Neumann, aren't worried.

"It's a natural thing to have concern," he said, "but in the end, you go back to reality. Do we have the building blocks to keep the Trinity Parkway on schedule? And we do."

So while the Trinity Toll Road group shoots to beat a 2014 completion date, the NTTA is waiting out a market that could potentially put an end to some projects.


© 2008

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