LOS ANGELES — The San Diego Association of Governments is leaning away from issuing bonds to fund the $345 million purchase of a toll road from a private operator.
Marney Cox, SANDAG’s chief economist, said he presented the board with two options for financing the purchase. Based on the board’s objectives — one of which is to lower tolls — he said shifting money from a parallel road project and obtaining a loan looks like the cheaper option for the San Diego-based agency.
The board is not likely to make a decision on how it plans to finance the road until its November board meeting, because SANDAG staffers are performing due diligence, Cox said.
The board hopes to have completed the due-diligence phase by November and make a decision on financing, so it can take a final vote on the purchase of the road at its December meeting.
The board asked staffers to run the numbers on different financing methods based on six goals they hope to achieve by purchasing the road, according to Cox.
The downside to issuing bonds is that the goal of lowering tolls would not be possible. Another item weighing in the favor of a loan and fund shift versus issuing bonds is that the agency could have the lease paid off by 2042, the deadline in the original franchise, he said.
SANDAG would shift money from a half-cent sales tax currently programmed for improvements to Interstate 805, a highway that runs parallel to the toll road, Cox said. The idea is that if the agency purchases the toll road lease and lowers tolls, fewer travelers will drive on I-805, so improvements will not be needed.
That shift would provide $212 million toward the purchase, so SANDAG would need to take out a loan for $55 million. The balance would be covered by an outstanding $92 million federal loan under the Transportation Innovation Finance and Innovation Act that would remain with the project after the lease sale, Cox said.
The tollway was built by a private company that went bankrupt a little more than two years after it opened in November 2007. The 10-mile road stretches from State Route 905 near the Otay Mesa Port of Entry at the Mexican border north through eastern Chula Vista.
In April, SANDAG approached Southbay Expressway LLC — which emerged from bankruptcy proceedings as owner of the lease to the toll road — about purchasing the road, Cox said.
After opening for business in late 2007, the road was unable to ride out the crumbling economy, and the tollway filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March 2010.
SANDAG announced in early August that it had accepted the tollway operator’s sale proposal, pending the association’s conducting its due diligence.