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Tollway Authority Delivers $3.2 Billion Check

By Shelley Kofler

Dallas – The North Texas Tollway Authority this week delivered a check worth more than $3-billion dollars that it promised for the right to build State Highway 121, the most lucrative toll road in the country.

In a room filled with transportation planners and elected officials Paul Wageman, Chairman of the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) posed for photographs with a symbolic check as big as a highway sign.

"Late yesterday afternoon $3.197 dollars was transferred to the Texas Department of Transportation as payment for the NTTA's right to develop finance and construct State Highway 121 in Collin, Dallas, and Denton counties," said Wageman.

Irony filled the room as Wageman stood next to Texas Transportation Commissioner Ric Williamson, who originally questioned whether the NTTA had the ability to finance the toll road's construction. The SH 121 contract was originally awarded to a private company, Cintra, then rebid and given to the NTTA after a change in state law.

For his part, Williamson called the delivery of the check "a great day." He said it's proof North Texas can find alternative road funding to dwindling gas tax money. But Williamson humorously acknowledged the tension that persists between his agency and the NTTA

"You may think from the sounds of us we're like cats. You can't tell if we are playing or fighting. But the reality is we are arguing and discussing and agreeing on what is the best for the citizens that we represent," said Williamson.

The NTTA's WAgeman didn't deny differences.

"The scratches on my neck and back indicate it is playful. It's not fighting," Wageman lightly responded.

The banter belies an ongoing struggle between the two agencies over who now will build 12 miles of State Highway 161 near the new Cowboys Stadium in Tarrant County. If the Texas Department of Transportation and the NTTA don't reach an agreement by December 21 deadline, the check delivered this week will become even more important. Regional transportation officials say they'll then use $600-$700 million of it to keep
SH 161 on schedule.

Two-thirds of the $3 billion check will be used to build hundreds of North Texas transportation projects to be identified around the first of the year. They include everything from street widenings, to park-and-ride lots to transit facilities.

State Highway 121, will extend from McKinney nearly to the Tarrant County line. Portions of the 26 miles will open in 2008.