DALLAS — Two of Texas' most congested cities are moving forward with managed toll lane projects after identifying sources of funding from the Texas Department of Transportation.

In Houston, Harris County Commissioners have approved a plan to add toll lanes to U.S. Highways 288 and 290, using $770 million of credits that the county says it is owed by TxDOT for development of an outer loop around the metropolitan area known as the Grand Parkway.

The commissioners unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding on the financing that gives Harris County the right to use its own engineers on the toll project.

The county would spend $400 million on U.S. 290 and receive twice that amount in matching funds from TxDOT, according to the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

The HCTRA, which finances and operates toll roads in Harris County, would manage the added toll lanes.

Under the Harris County plan, a free lane would be added in each direction on U.S. 290, between Loop 610 and the Grand Parkway, along with two or three toll lanes in the center of the highway. U.S. 288 would gain two toll lanes from U.S. 59 to Brazoria County.

In Austin, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, which manages state and federal transportation funding for regional projects, sees an opportunity to accelerate a toll project on the MoPac Expressway.

The toll project is expected to receive an additional $136.6 million from TxDOT that could be leveraged over 22 years.

A separate authority, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, would manage the toll lanes and pay CAMPO 3% interest, according to the plan. The payments to CAMPO could be applied to other projects in the area.

The funding approach could save the Regional Mobility Authority interest compared to issuing bonds in its own name.

Mike Heiligenstein, executive director of the authority, told CAMPO officials that the 3% interest rate could be less than half the yields on its own revenue bonds.

The toll agency's senior-lien revenue bonds are rated BBB-minus by Standard & Poor's and Baa3 by Moody's Investors Service.

TxDOT's general obligation bond rating, by contrast, is AA-plus from Standard & Poor's.

The regional agency's debt is structured with escalating annual debt service, predicated on increasing traffic.

"Therefore, strong growth in toll revenues will be necessary for the authority to provide adequate debt-service coverage, particularly during the next 13 years," analysts at Standard & Poor's noted in a 2011 report.

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