It looks like it's really happening. The North Texas Tollway Authority board just accepted the Transportation Commission's deal for building State Highway 161 by a vote of eight to one. The state commissioners offered the deal on Wednesday that allows NTTA to effectively borrow Department of Transportation's credit rating in making deals. Yesterday's story details the deal in full.
Houston Commissioner Ned Holmes added extra terms at the last minute: that the NTTA must pay interest if they fail to share their toll revenue on time. Some feared (others hoped) that the extra clause might kill the deal. When I talked to NTTA spokesperson Sherita Coffelt on Monday, she said the additional fees might be a deal-breaker. "It makes the project more costly," she said. "It provides additional costs, making it harder to get out of the toll equity loan."
Evidently the terms were acceptable. The toll equity loan agreement lets NTTA use TXDOT's credit rating by guaranteeing limited loans from the state highway fund if NTTA fails to make payments, althoguh before it can use the fund money, NTTA must implement a number of other safeguards. The deal saves NTTA hundreds of millions, and offers a new precedent in highway-building. Some are scared about the implications for the highway fund, others worry about a heavier reliance on toll roads and debt to build. The projects been on the books since the '60s though, and those who worked in the partnership of TXDOT, the Regional Transportation Council and NTTA which allowed the project to go forward are probably just relieved.