DALLAS - The North Texas Tollway Authority expects to issue $620 million of toll revenue bonds and $740 million in other forms of debt to design and build a new toll highway in western Dallas County, officials said.

In a public hearing on the State Highway 161 tollway last week, NTTA officials spelled out current plans for the project. The highway is already under construction, but NTTA would take over Phase 4, a 6.5-mile stretch expected to open in the third quarter of 2012.

The authority expects the 40-year cost of the bond debt, including interest, to be about $2.12 billion. NTTA in the past two years has tripled its bond debt to about $7 billion with the financing of another major tollway, State Highway 121, which required a pre-payment to regional governments of $3.5 billion.

To avoid endangering ratings on its existing toll revenue bonds, financing of the SH 161 project will not be backed by revenues from the overall toll system. This would be the first bond issue lacking a system revenue pledge.

NTTA's first-tier revenue bonds are rated A-minus by Standard & Poor's and A2 by Moody's Investors Service. Second-tier bonds are rated BBB-plus by Standard & Poor's and A3 by Moody's. Fitch Ratings does not rate the authority.

NTTA's project agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation calls for a base toll rate for two-axle vehicles of 14.5 cents per mile. The base toll rate would increase 2.75% per year every two years.

The authority has chosen what it considers the best bid for construction from a consortium calling itself PrairieLink Constructors LLC, made up of construction giant Fluor EPCM Services and Balfour Beatty Construction. If awarded, the $414 million contract would be the largest ever awarded by the NTTA.

"The size and scope, as well as the method of delivery of this contract, are signs that the NTTA and its regional partners are successfully utilizing innovative methods to deliver projects to the region," said NTTA executive director Allen Clemson. "SH 161 could not have been advanced if it were not for the efforts of the Regional Transportation Council and the Texas Department of Transportation."

The NTTA has already begun collecting tolls on Phase 2 of the SH 161 tollway that connects U.S. 183 to the north with Interstate 30 to the south. I-30, originally a state-operated tollway, connects downtown Dallas and Fort Worth. The completed section of SH 161 is designed also to funnel traffic to the Dallas Cowboys new stadium in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth.

When all sections of SH 161 are completed, the 11.5-mile corridor will link to the President George Bush Turnpike that spans the northern suburbs of Dallas, carrying traffic to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. TxDOT has been developing plans for the SH 161 project since 1969 and is preparing to seal an agreement with the NTTA to complete the corridor as a toll road.

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