AUSTIN - The Texas Transportation Commission has approved a recommendation from North Texas leaders to award the State Highway 121 contract to the North Texas Tollway Authority.

The action, which came during the commission’s meeting Thursday in Austin, will allow the NTTA to construct and operate Highway 121 as a toll road.

Earlier this month, a majority of the Regional Transportation Council members had expressed a “keep it local” sentiment by an almost 3-to-1 margin earlier this month in tapping the NTTA as their preferred builder of Highway 121.

Losing out to NTTA on the toll road project that will serve Denton and Collin counties was the private sector, foreign-based proposal put forth by Cintra/JPMorgan Fund and supported by Gov. Rick Perry, RTC staff members and Texas Department of Transportation staff members.

Twenty-seven members voted for NTTA’s proposal, with 10 members, including Ellis County Commissioner Ron Brown, voting against the local tollway authority.

“I’m pleased TxDOT respect ed the recommendation of the local regional transportation council,” said state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie. “I believe the NTTA offered a superior proposal and that this project is best managed by a local authority that is accountable to this citizens of this region.”

According to a press release issued by the commission, the action should “accelerate improvements to State Highway 121 and 30 other congestion-relieving projects throughout North Texas.”

State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, also was pleased with the commission’s decision.

“Local leaders spoke decisively in recommending NTTA’s proposal, and the commission’s acceptance is a great step forward for mobility in North Texas,” Carona said. “It bodes well for participation by local entities in future projects around the state and for the commission’s ability to implement newly passed legislation. I am confident that NTTA and RTC can work out a project agreement in a timely fashion and we can get this much-needed project under way.”

Relating to the NTTA proposal, the commission authorized the Texas Department of Transportation staff to enter into a project agreement with the tolling authority once:

the Regional Transportation Council negotiates with the NTTA on major terms of the project agreement and submits those terms to TxDOT, quantification of public benefits anticipated to be derived from the NTTA’s proposal is agreed to by the RTC; and NTTA is able to close on all financial transactions necessary to meet its obligations concurrently with or no later than 45 days after the execution and delivery of the project agreement.

Major terms remaining to be negotiated between the RTC and NTTA include:

the timing and amount of the annual payments; enforcement provisions regarding compliance with the toll rate policy, project schedule, payment obligations and other commitments; and the length of the agreement.

Prior to approving the RTC recommendation, the commission concluded “(the proposal) helps the state meet its transportation goals to reduce congestion, enhance safety, expand economic opportunity, improve air quality and increase the value of transportation assets,” according to the press release, noting the action also supports commission strategies to empower local leaders to solve local transportation problems and increase competition to drive down costs.

Temporary closure

In other TxDOT news related to the Metroplex, the agency announced it would temporarily close main lanes and frontage roads on U.S. Highway 175 in Seagoville from 6:30-7 a.m. Sunday, July 1.

The closure will occur at Highway 175 and Simonds Road to allow the pulling of several aerial fiber-optic utility lines across the highway, weather permitting.

Road signs have been placed along both sides of Highway 175 warning motorists of the closure. Traffic control will be provided by local police officers.

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com