Cintra-Meridiam-Dallas Cops group chosen by TxDOT for $1.6 billion of N Tarrant Express toll lanes

January 29, 2009

Texas DOT is signing a toll concession with an international group led by Cintra to do about $1.6 billion worth of work rebuild some 20km (13 miles) of old freeway into frontage, free and toll lanes and get planning work and rights to negotiate up to several billion dollars more of the North Tarrant Express project. TxDOT got bids from the Cintra-led Group called NTE Mobility Partners (NTEMP) and from Spain based OHL.

The procurement was based on an offer by TxDOT to provide up to $600 of gas/diesel tax funds toward the project which was then competed on the basis of which bidder could build the most roadway of a $5 billion 58km (36 mile) megaproject in return for tolling rights for 52 years.

Phase one, which is the subject of this toll concession ('comprehensive development agreement' (CDA) in TxDOT parlance) covers east-west highway located a bit west of Dallas Ft Worth International Airport - the Airport Freeway where it is co-signed TX183 and TX121 to an interchange with I-820, and I-820 west to I-35W.

These are among the most heavily congested highways in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, according to traffic data.  I-820 carries 132k and TX183 168k daily traffic (AADT).

I-820 is being designed for 256k and TX183 for 314k daily traffic, forecast for 2030.

Tolls for cars would be all-electronic at highway speed with the 13-mile trip estimated to have a minimum toll of $1.20 (9.2c/mile) and a maximum of $6.50 in the peak (50c/mile).

Trucks will be able to travel in the toll express lanes but at higher per mile charges than cars.

NTTA will act as toll collection subcontractor to the concessionaire.

The announcement says that NTEMP have been "conditionally awarded" the project. The condition is that the group goes to financial close by "late 2009." The concessionaire group will have to raise about $1b and on past practice this will be a mix of bonds and equity. The equity split is not finalized by one official familiar with the group said it would probably be:

- Cintra 65%

- Meridiam 25%

- Dallas Police & Fire Pension 10%

The lead company Cintra, head officed in Madrid Spain is the largest concessionaire in North America and recently tied down a major tollroad concession in Poland. Meridiam Infrastructure with a head office in Paris is part owned by French investors and by AECOM, the large US engineering firm and is involved in concessions in France, Phillipines, Korea, Croatia, Portugal, Austria and Ireland. Dallas Police & Fire Pension System looks after the pension assets of some 8500 Dallas area cops and firemen. Houston based road builder WW Webber is also part of the team.

The North Tarrant Express megaproject is divided into one phase and six segments - seven bits, simpler people than TxDOT would say.

Phase One concessioned today is the central and largest bit, and the others stretch out from it east along TX183 past the southern boundary of DFW airport, south down I-820 where it loops south and north and south along I-35W.

In Phase One every square yard of pavement and every structure will be replaced but in a ballet choreographed to maintain traffic through the worksite at all times. The improvements will maintain the existing number of tax-supported lanes 2x3 on TX183 and 2x2 lanes on I-820.

2x2 toll lanes  (called managed lanes in Texas) will be added throughout, in I-820 at-grade in the middle of the highway and on TX183 as elevated lanes where space is tighter. There are also Texas style continuous frontage roads the whole length of the project. Frontage roads act as transitions on and off the expressway standard lanes and have U-turns and signals at intersections.

The concessionaire will operate a dynamic pricing scheme on the toll lanes aimed at allowing a minimum 50mph (80km/hr) speed regardless of traffic density.

The project will convert 6 lanes into 10 lane expressway and 4 lane into 8 expressway lanes.  Counting frontage roads they will be 14 and 12 lanes.

Environmental permitting on the TX183 is proceeding, with the aim of clearing the project for detailed design starting in the summer.

Construction work is due to begin early 2010 and to be complete on Phase One by 2015.

The project is expected to make major improvements in mobility and in air quality by reducing stop-&-go traffic.

Texas Transportation Commissioner Bill Meadows is quoted: "Today's announcement is an important signal that local leaders, the private sector and TxDOT can find opportunities to work together to meet our state's transportation challenges."

Jose Lopez president of Cintra US based in Austin is quoted: "The North Tarrant Express will provide critical traffic relief for the fourth most congested metropolitan area in the country. These enhancements will contribute to the safety and reliability of this highway system, and also help eliminate a carbon footprint created by stagnant traffic. We are honored to have the opportunity to work alongside the visionary business and civic leaders in the Metroplex to create world-class innovative traffic congestion relief for Texas motorists in this vital part of the state."

Richard Tettamant, administrator of the Dallas cops and firemens fund is quoted: "This is a proud moment for the active members, retirees, surviving spouses and dependents of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.  We believe that the DPFPS is the first U.S. pension fund in the country to invest in the building and maintenance of a major toll road infrastructure project like the North Tarrant Express. It's an excellent investment for our 8,500 members and their families and a vital investment in our community.  As available public resources for highway projects have dwindled, it's private investment by our own citizens like the DPFPS that will build the roads and highways in our communities."

TOLLROADSnews 2009-01-29

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