DALLAS - With the credit market still awaiting a thaw, the North Texas Tollway Authority approved a plan to complete the takeout of $3.5 billion of bond anticipation notes by the Nov. 19 deadline.

Over the past year, the NTTA has converted $3.2 billion of 2007 Bans to long-term debt, leaving about $225 million due by Nov. 19. But difficulty in accessing the market could threaten the last bond deal, officials acknowledged in an emergency board meeting Monday.

If market conditions permit, the NTTA plans to issue $150 million of toll revenue bonds next week to finish the conversion. The $150 million would combine with a $100 million placement of variable-rate index floaters with Bank of America, approved at Monday's meeting.

The index floaters pegged to the SIFMA weekly index for three years allow NTTA to avoid locking in high long-term rates. Like other large issuers, authority has been sidelined by the turbulent market conditions.

"We don't have to wait for a good day in the market," said Susan Buse, assistant executive director for program assistance. "All the fees are based on one spread. It's really a simple way to have a variable rate product."

If the authority is unable to issue long-term bonds for the remainder of the Bans, the board will issue another round of Bans to take out the 2007 issue. That was seen as a worst-case scenario.

"This is an abundance of caution," Buse said.

The Bans were issued last year to provide an up-front payment for the right to develop the State Highway 121 toll project that arcs the far northern suburbs of Dallas, connecting to the flagship North Dallas Tollway and to the President George Bush Turnpike that provides a direct route to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

The SH 121 project will also connect to another proposed tollway, SH 161, that will funnel traffic toward a new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth.

The NTTA meets today to decide whether to build the $1.1 billion SH 161 after delaying the decision for a month due to market turmoil. If the board approves the SH 161 project, it will pledge $400 million of equity toward completion of the turnpike.

Last month, the NTTA board was deciding what the impact of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy would have on the interest rate swaps it had with Lehman. At Monday's meeting, the board voted to replace Lehman with Barclays. The former Lehman team that worked with the NTTA is now with Barclays, Buse said.

Since the authority won the right to build SH 121 in June 2007, the credit market has shifted dramatically. In pitching its proposal for the SH 121 to the Regional Transportation Council made up of regional governments, the NTTA said it would be able to pursue six other projects requiring another $7 billion in debt.

The SH 121 project has already tripled the NTTA's debt and brought a downgrade. In making its decision on SH 161, the board solicited reports from Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service on how a decision to build the new highway would impact its credit rating. Those reports remain confidential, Buse said.

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