Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lt. Gov. Dewhurst and the Texas Transportation Commission affirms RTCs recommendation of NTTA for SH 121 Project

By Faith Chatham - June 28, 2007
Shortly before noon, the Texas Transportation Commission voted and approved NTTA for the SH121 toll project. Of the five commissioners, 4 voted for NTTA. The motion stipulates that TxDOT and NTTA are to negotiate a firm contract within 60 days. NTTA will take that contract to their bonding agents and submit it to the Attorney General for approval. Within 45 days of the signing of that contract, NTTA is to pay the unfront payment or the agreement is null and void.

The RTC and NTTA will negotiate and come to agreements on what other projects NTTA is going to deliver in the region.

Michael Morris, Transportation Director for the North Central Texas Council of Government stated the region's case for NTTA. Morris said: "Members of the RTC decided to have faith in ourselves. In our own region we have a public toll authority with a sound system which has twice the value of outstanding debt, and SH 121 is located in the fastest growing sector of the region. In selecting NTTA we have decided to have faith in ourselves."

Commissioners carefully weighed the differences between the Cintra contract and the NTTA proposal. Cintra's contract is ready to sign. NTTA's proposal must be negotiated into a contract.

Despite modeling by Price Waterhouse Cooper, TxDOT staff and JP Morgan (equity partners of Cintra), which applied discount rates to the value of the NTTA bid, some of the Commissioners questioned how accurate the discount rates applied in the models could be since they are based on projections instead of history or known factual data. Price Waterhouse Cooper had discounted NTTA's upfront payment. Most of the Commission seemed to believe that upfront money paid at financial close should not be discounted. NTTA agreed that the upfront money would be paid at financial close, which is set 45 days after the signing of the contract.

One Commissioner mentioned risk, and referred to the Orange County, CA tollroad which the taxpayers bought back from the private partners at a high cost to the taxpayers. Several citizens addressed the commission, stating that they'd prefer that this not be a toll road. One very articulate citizen pointed a number of funding sources available to the State other than toll revenue and private investments in toll roads to finance the state's needed infrastructure. All private citizens who spoke said of the two choices (Cintra or NTTA), their preference was that NTTA be allowed to build SH 121.

Lt. Governor David Dewhurst wrote the Texas Transportation Commission stating his support for NTTA receiving the SH121 bid.
On numerous occasions during the 80th Legislative Session, Commission members publicly stated they will look to locl officials for guidance on transportation projects. I am hopeful this will be the case for the SH 121 project. Local control was the legislative directive embedded in SB 792, and I feel this is the proper way to proceed with current and future transportation projects.

I thnk the Legislature and TxDOT can work together to solve the state's transportation problems, but local control must be at the heart of these important decisions. I support the RTC's vote to award the SH 121 project to NTTA and hope the Commission will honor the region's decision.

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