DALLAS — In the largest deal of the year from Texas, the North Texas Tollway Authority will issue more than $1 billion of debt this week, carrying its highest credit rating in three years.
The issue includes $606.5 million of tax-exempt special projects system revenue bonds and $422.3 million of taxable bond anticipation notes.
The bonds will be issued in three tranches — $426.2 million of Series A current interest bonds, $49.5 million of Series B capital appreciation bonds, and $130.8 million of Series C convertible capital appreciation bonds.
Citi is senior manager. Barclays Capital, Estrada Hinojosa & Co., Loop Capital Markets, Morgan Keegan & Co., Morgan Stanley, and Ramirez & Co. are co-managers. RBC Capital Markets is financial adviser and McCall Parkhurst & Horton is bond counsel.
The deal represent’s the NTTA’s first bonds not backed by system-wide revenues. Only revenues for the project known as the President George Bush Turnpike Western Extension will be used to service the debt.
Though project revenue is expected to easily meet projections because the tollway passes through a well-established and heavily traveled corridor west of Dallas, ratings were of critical concern.
Thanks to a toll-equity loan agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation, the bonds carry ratings of AA from Standard & Poor’s and AA-minus from Fitch Ratings. Moody’s Investors Service has not rated the debt.
The rating from Fitch is the first for the NTTA since the authority dropped the credit agency in 2008 in the wake of a downgrade on its revenue bonds to BBB-plus. The authority built its financing plan for the $3.2 billion Sam Rayburn Tollway north of Dallas on maintaining an “A-category rating,” which it has with Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.
In 2008, the NTTA issued $3 billion of revenue bonds with a AA enhanced rating based on insurance from MBIA Insurance Corp. The MBIA rating had been AAA when the authority closed on the insurance. Since then, MBIA has seen its ratings plummet as bond insurance has become rare.
Under its $4.1 billion toll equity loan with TxDOT, the agency will be reimbursed in the event it needs additional funds to meet debt service or to cover maintenance or other costs.
“TxDOT’s obligation to provide support under the TEL agreement is subject to biennial appropriation by the state Legislature,” noted Fitch analyst Douglas Offerman. “Advances would be expected to derive from the state highway fund, TxDOT’s operating fund, to which various transportation-related taxes and fees are constitutionally dedicated.”
The finance plan is based in part on an anticipated $422.3 million federal loan under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act. The TIFIA loan is expected to refund the bond anticipation notes. The TIFIA note will be issued as a second-tier obligation.
The bonds $1.2 billion President George Bush Turnpike Western Extension is an 11.5-mile tollway already under construction in western Dallas County. Though construction started under TxDOT, the NTTA is acquiring the project, completing the final construction, and managing it in perpetuity.
Portions of the roadway are already open, with substantial completion on the final phase scheduled in October 2012. Current proceeds will fund remaining construction costs, various reserve funds, and an acquisition payment to TxDOT.
Under the agreement, TxDOT agrees to make TEL advances as needed to cover the shortfalls for certain expenses, including first-tier bond debt service, the second-tier TIFIA loan debt service, and certain operating, maintenance, and capital expenses of the project through final maturity, as budgeted at closing.
Operating, maintenance, and capital expenses in excess of those budgeted at closing are not covered by the TEL.