121 Tollway north of Dallas TX to become Sam Rayburn Tollway (UPDATE)

May 29, 2009

The much fought-over State Highway 121 tollroad is being formally renamed in a ceremony next week the Sam Rayburn Tollway. That will be the second major toll authority facility in  the United States named after a famous speaker of the US House of Representatives, the first having been Thomas 'Tip' O'Neill (1912-1994). The Massachusetts Turnpike's I-93 Big Dig was formally named the Thomas 'Tip' O'Neill Tunnel in 2006 although in common speech it's still known there still as the I-93 Tunnel.

Unlike the O'Neill Tunnel which was almost pure Bostonian logrolling - political cost shifting - with no tolls on users, the Sam Rayburn Tollway will toll. And so far at least, it looks likely to be built on time and on budget - at less than a billion dollars total cost v the Big Dig's $15.4b. 

Maybe that's because the Sam Rayburn's being built with toll revenue bonds and after a substantial concession payment that imposes a fiscal discipline unknown in Massachusetts where everyone was gotten to pitch in, and get into hock.

Rayburn (1882-1961) represented the 4th congressional district of Texas located north of Dallas including the Collin, Denton and Dallas counties traversed by the new tollway. A lifelong Democrat politician he got a seat in the Texas legislature at age 24 and was re-elected twice rising at age 29 to speaker of the Texas House. At age 30 (1912) he was elected to the US House of Representatives becoming majority leader in 1937 and speaker in 1940. He died as speaker at age 79 in 1961.

Totally without hair on his head he had a rather 21st century look 50 years before it was fashionable. And if it's not a contradiction in terms Rayburn was an honest politician by all accounts, reputedly having a stock response to anyone who offered him campaign contributions: "I'm not for sale."

Rayburn also had a way with words. He is said to have coined the terms Sun Belt, and Frost Belt, and the folksy throwaway line like: "A jackass can kick a barn down, but it takes a carpenter to build one."

He championed federal support for US66 Chicago to Los Angeles which he said would "unite the Sun Belt and the Frost Belt." That's the road featured in John Steinbeck's novel Grapes of Wrath, and now famous for kitsch.

There's a Rayburn Veterans Center and a Rayburn Library at University of Texas Austin, and the Rayburn House Office building in Washington DC.

And now a tollroad or Tollway as they say in Texas (and Illinois).


Sam Rayburn Tollway, formerly known as State Highway (SH) 121, then 121 Tollway will stretch 47.5km (25.9 miles) northeast-southwest through Collin, Dallas and Denton counties. It runs north of, and for a considerable distance somewhat parallel to NTTA's President George Bush Turnpike and it crosses NTTA's Dallas North Tollway about midway.

Of 3+3 mainline toll lanes (expandable with 4th lanes) and with twin untolled 3-lane frontage roadways straddling it the tollroad is a typical Texas expressway with most access and egress via highspeed slip lanes between the mainline and the frontage roads.

It is the largest all-electronic tollroad so far in the US.

Raytheon began toll systems under contract to TxDOT but NTTA is employing ETCC to build the toll system.

War over 121 in 2005

The tollway was the subject of a huge political and financial battle in 2005.

TxDOT did a concession procurement among four investor groups and selected Cintra to build the 121 Tollway and toll it for 50 years. NTTA which earlier had expressed no interest in the project mobilized and came in with its own counter offer.

NTTA bid a public-public concession, like the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission's bid for I-80. 

Unlike PA/I-80, NTTA won in Feb 2006 with a commitment to making upfront concession style payments of some $3.2b, and a possible profit share. The upfront payments were made in Nov 2007 after NTTA's biggest bond sale yet.

The road has been built in stages, TxDOT building most of the frontage road lanes and the first two sections of the mainline.

NTTA formally took over the project in October 2007 and aims on completing it by early 2012.

Numbered west to east, Segments 1 and 2 were completed in Aug/Sept 2008 with
TxDOT retrospectively treated as subcontractor to NTTA.

At that time also NTTA took over operations and maintenance and toll collection.

Work is underway now on Segment 3, the major eastern stretch - due for completion in January 2010. 

Earth is already moving and concrete being poured also on Segment 4 including the far eastern end and the first major expressway-to-expressway interchange at US75 - with completion due  Jan 2011.

Contracts for Segment 5, the complex central interchange with NTTA's Dallas North Tollway will be bid this summer with a  view to signing in the fall and completion Jan 2012.

The toll road starts at Business 121 in Lewisville west of I-35E and runs northeasterly to US75 in McKinney. The design allows for adding a 4th mainline lane each direction in the future.

Cost of the toll portion is put at $639m for 156 lane-miles (250 lane-km) or $4.1m/lane-mile ($2.6m/lane-km).

More detailed map available here:


NTTA materials:


TOLLROADSnews 2009-05-29

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