DALLAS - Armed with $1.2 billion in federal stimulus funds, the Texas Transportation Commission yesterday approved massive outlays, including $600 million of state Proposition 14 bonds, for highway and transit projects.
"We spent a lot of money today," said Chris Lippincott, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation that operates under the direction of the TTC.
TxDOT had already prepared a list of $1.2 billion worth of "shovel-ready" projects before President Obama signed the stimulus last week. On the list approved yesterday were $500 million of maintenance and preservation projects.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry - who stood with his party in expressing doubt that the funds were needed, especially in Texas' comparatively healthy economy - reluctantly relented to accept the stimulus money.
The Proposition 14 bonds come from a program authorized by voters in 2003 and funded by state gas tax revenue. About 20% of the bonds are earmarked for safety projects, like those approved yesterday. The new issue will be the first since $605 million of Proposition 14 bonds were issued in 2004.
"With the money from this program, TxDOT can make safety upgrades that have the potential to prevent thousands of accidents and save lives," said TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz.
More than 900 miles of highway will see safety improvements such as widening narrow two-lane roads, adding left turn lanes and continuous left turn lanes, and installing concrete and cable barriers in divided highway medians.
The TTC also took action on two Dallas-area projects representing more than $5 billion of highway development.
Commissioners awarded a $4 billion project for the redevelopment of Dallas County's LBJ Freeway to a team known as LBJ Development Partners. The 13-mile project, also known as Interstate 635, will include finance, design, construction and operation of managed lanes. Construction is expected to take approximately five years.
"Partnering with the private sector allows us to stretch $445 million taxpayer dollars to deliver an asset worth approximately $4 billion to the region," said Deirdre Delisi, chairwoman of the TTC. "Innovative project development strategies, like the one used for the new LBJ, stimulate our economy, provide thousands of jobs, and improve regional mobility and air quality."
The TTC also approved another key Dallas-area project, the $1.1 billion State Highway 161 toll project under the aegis of the North Texas Tollway Authority.
The NTTA, which has quadrupled its debt load with an unprecedented series of projects, last week agreed to build the tollway through western Dallas County without encumbering revenues from the rest of the toll system. In a new form of security prompted by the frozen liquidity markets, TxDOT will back the future debt service on the project if revenues fall short.
In another significant change, the department will alter the way it awards so-called "pass-through toll financing" for local governments. The new system, which awards funds based on the traffic a project experiences, as if it were a tollway, had previously been a first-come-first-served process. With demand for the pass-through toll bonds growing, the TTC yesterday decided to consider all the requests at one time.
Pass-through toll financing allows local governments to front the money for highway projects with their own bonds and receive reimbursement from TxDOT based on the amount of traffic using the completed roadway.