Tri-Met runs a 52-mile light rail system in the Portland, Ore. region.

PHOENIX - The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon will sell $133.6 million of triple-A rated payroll tax bonds Sept. 9.

The bonds will be sold in two series: a $69 million "A" series of new money and a $64.6 million "B" series that will be used to refund debt issued in 2005 as well as some 2007 and 2009 bonds. The new money will go toward transportation projects including replacement buses and the a new electronic fare system.

The state established TriMet in 1969 to provide public transportation to the Portland area. As of July 1 it employed some 2,800 people and operates 79 bus lines, a light rail system, and a heavy rail commuter train. Ridership has risen about 5% over the past decade, according to investor roadshow materials.

The upcoming tax-exempt bonds carry the top rating from both Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's and are secured by specified tax revenues including payroll taxes, self-employment taxes, and others collected by the state and paid to a trustee required to make weekly deposits to the debt service account. The 2015 bonds are the only special tax-backed bonds issued by a transit agency to get triple-A ratings from both Moody's and S&P, TriMet said.

JP Morgan, Citi and Morgan Stanley are underwriters on the deal, while Hawkins Delafield & Wood is bond counsel. San-Francisco-based Ross Financial is the financial advisor. The deal is expected to close Sept. 30.

The TriMet board is authorized by law to increase payroll tax rates if the revenues do not cover debt service on its bonds, and did increase rates by 0.01% annually from 2005-2014 with another possible increase slated for later this year. Payroll tax revenue was $291.3 million in fiscal year 2015, according to TriNet's offering documents and roadshow, a 6.1% increase from the previous year. The district is projecting a 7.4% revenue increase for fiscal 2016. The three counties TriMet covers: Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington Counties, are all in the top five in the state of per-capita income.

The district has an extensive array of projects in its capital plan, including a possible expansion of its infrastructure to serve the population southwest of Portland. TriMet recently completed a $1.49 billion expansion of its light rail system, which the agency said it expects will carry about 25,000 people on a typical weekday by 2030.

 

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