Grand Parkway project advances
The Texas Department of Transportation is analyzing four delivery models to accelerate construction of Texas 99, also known as the Grand Parkway, as a toll road, according to David Gornet, executive director of the Grand Parkway Association.
Gornet was guest speaker at the Aug. 4 meeting of the Cy-Fair Houston Chamber of Commerce transportation committee.
The nonprofit association he heads was created in 1984 to help TxDOT develop the Grand Parkway as an 184-mile outer highway loop to serve greater Houston.
About 28 miles of the roadway have been built. This week, TxDOT was to open bids on the last of four contracts needed to build 15.2-mile Segment E through western Harris County from Interstate 10 to U.S. 290. The other three contracts were awarded last month.
"We can look for that to be open south of 290 and we can be driving on it in two years," Gornet said.
"We're very excited to see the project moving forward," said Jeff Collins, co-chair of the chamber's transportation committee.
He expressed no preference on which delivery model is used, but added that he wanted to make sure local businesses are used as much as possible.
Collins said the opening of Segment E would give some relief to congestion on U.S. 290, taking traffic over to Interstate 10 that is headed to Westchase and the Galleria.
Noting the construction of an inbound direct connector from U.S. 290 and the I-610 North Loop to the Katy Freeway, he added, "We're happy to see some mobility improvements in the area. We'll keep fighting to make sure we get more."
Collins thanked the Transportation Commission and TxDOT for seeing the projects through. "I know money is tight these days," he said.
Funding is an issue for segment F1, which is from U.S. 290 to Texas 249; segment F2, which is from Texas 249 to Interstate 45 N.; and segment G, which is from I-45 N. to U.S. 59 N. These three segments would add another 37.8 miles at an estimated cost of $1.2 billion. These segments are considered important to serve a corporate complex being built by ExxonMobil on 385 acres near I-45 and the Hardy Toll Road.
Since June, TxDOT has explored whether a public-private partnership can bridge the funding gap and accelerate design and construction of these segments as a toll road. Of 22 firms that responded to the department's request for information on the idea, 16 or 17 have been interviewed, Gornet said.
Four delivery models are being discussed, he said.
If TxDOT requires completion of the segments a year early, by December 2014, it skews the conversation toward more traditional design-build and design-bid-build delivery models, Gornet said.
In both models, TxDOT would finance the project using bonds. Toll revenue or gasoline-tax revenue could be obligated to pay off the bonds over 30 years or more, Gornet said.
Also being discussed are a concession agreement and availability payments. Under these models, TxDOT could receive upfront cash from a private partner, who would then finance, build, operate and maintain the roadway over 30 to 50 years.
The concession agreement pledges all or part of the toll revenue to the private partner. Using availability payments, a model previously untried in Texas, TxDOT bears the risk that toll revenue will be sufficient to repay the funds.
TxDOT is waiting for more information on potential toll revenue and traffic counts to analyze the delivery models, Gornet said.
In any scenario, upfront payments to TxDOT or excess toll revenues are dedicated to the Grand Parkway project and cannot be used for other highways, he said.
The ongoing analysis could delay TxDOT's request for qualifications from potential private partners, previously scheduled to be issued in mid-August, Gornet said. However, TxDOT could issue the request without specifying its preferred delivery model, he said.
"The opportunity is there to put all this together," Gornet said. "Each segment can function independently, as we've seen with Segment D, which has served the mobility needs of Fort Bend County for years. But when you connect them, you start to get a synergistic effect."
Local Advertising by PaperG