DALLAS — The Texas Department of Transportation expects to go to market this spring after gaining approval to issue up to $3 billion of general obligation bonds.

In separate meetings yesterday, the Texas Transportation Commission and the State Bond Review Board authorized TxDOT to develop a preliminary official statement and take other steps needed to issue the debt.

TxDOT has not hired underwriters for the deal, which is expected to come in March or April, according to spokeswoman Kelli Petras.

Known as Proposition 12 bonds for the proposal authorized by Texas voters in 2007, the debt is designed to help the state catch up with its growing transportation infrastructure needs.

TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz said the TTC has already estimated that the state will need $332 billion more than is envisioned over the next 20 years to keep up with transportation needs.

As those needs grow, fuel tax revenues are falling and are currently 2% below projections made in 2009. Despite the need for more revenue, neither Gov. Rick Perry nor his Republican primary challenger Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison are likely to call for a tax increase in an election year.

Without additional tax revenue, the state’s transportation planners have turned increasingly to toll roads, particularly in the North Texas area, where at least four major projects are underway or in the planning stages.

The North Texas Tollway Authority is preparing to take over construction and management of State Highway 161 in western Dallas County if it can do so without endangering its credit ratings of A-minus from Standard & Poor’s and A2 from Moody’s Investors Service.

At yesterday’s TTC meeting, commissioners voted to continue negotiating a deal with the NTTA over plans to guarantee its debt for the $1 billion tollway, which is already nearly three-fourths complete.

To acquire the project, the toll authority would pay the Regional Transportation Council of North Texas $458 million for the completed sections, while investing $610 million for the completion of Phase 4. The NTTA would then operate the tollway and apply revenues to its bond debt.

To avoid straining revenues on its existing toll system, the authority would finance SH 161 separately.

Under the proposed plan, TxDOT would guarantee debt service on the SH 161 bonds so that if revenues fell short, the state would step in to make the debt payments.

With yesterday’s agreement to continue negotiations, the NTTA gains more time to work out a deal that would reduce its risks.

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