Friday, October 19, 2007

Highway 121 project receives federal environmental clearance

By MICHAEL A. LINDENBERGER - The Dallas Morning News - Thursday, October 18, 2007
The federal government issued an environmental clearance Wednesday for the controversial -- and much delayed -- State Highway 121 toll road project. That clearance was required before the Texas Department of Transportation could sign the project agreement already negotiated and agreed to by the North Texas Tollway Authority.

Mark Ball, a spokesman for TxDOT's Dallas district, said it was not immediately clear how soon the department's executive director would sign the project agreement.

NTTA, which has promised to pay $3.3 billion for the road contract, has already signed the agreement and has been waiting for weeks for TxDOT's signature. The latter was delayed, however, until final federal environmental clearance was achieved.

Faced with the delay by the Federal Highway Administration, the Texas Transportation Commission voted Aug. 23 to cancel a deadline that had initially stipulated that if NTTA could not sign an agreement by Aug. 29, the deal would revert to Spanish builder Cintra.

Now that the federal clearance has been issued, TxDOT is expected to sign the agreement. Once it does, NTTA will have 45 days to close its financing and make the upfront payments. The payments are in return for the right to build the 26-mile toll road in Collin and Denton counties and collect tolls for the next 50 years.

Already, local governments in North Texas have proposed hundreds of transportation projects that would be paid for by the money NTTA has promised to pay.

The initial $3.3 billion figure may be adjusted somewhat, thanks to the variations in the bond market that have taken place because of the mortgage market crisis, regional transportation and NTTA officials have said.

Read more in the Dallas Morning News

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