ARLINGTON - A majority of the Regional Transportation Council members expressed a “keep it local” sentiment by an almost 3-to-1 margin Tuesday afternoon in tapping the North Texas Tollway Authority as their preferred builder of State Highway 121.
Twenty-seven members voted for NTTA’s proposal, with 10 members, including Ellis County Commissioner Ron Brown, voting against the local tollway authority.
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 RTC and Texas Department of Transportation staff members.
During a four-hour discussion, the RTC’s council members debated a number of issues back and forth, with representatives of the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCooper addressing varying financial aspects of the two proposals. Representatives of Cintra and NTTA also made brief presentations and answered questions left over from a workshop meeting last week.
NTTA board chairman Paul N. Wageman urged support of his agency’s proposal, saying the profits expected to be accrued by private investors under the Cintra proposal — estimated at a minimum of $700-plus million — should instead go to the public’s benefit.
“This is a great project that enhances our ability to do more,” Wageman said, noting the NTTA’s interest in doing other roads envisioned under the RTC’s “2030 Plan.”
As part of the discussion, PricewaterhouseCooper presented a “normalized base case” comparing the two rival proposals. The scenario provided a comparison of NTTA’s upfront payment of $2.4 billion and annual payments of from $600,000 to $700,000 to the RTC, with the Cintra proposal, which would provide a $2.1 billion upfront payment and annual payments of $700,000.
A “public benefit” of from $200,000 to $300,000 would be seen under the scenario from NTTA, according to PricewaterhouseCooper, which noted Cintra would pay $500,000 under an interoperability agreement to NTTA as well as $100,000 in federal taxes.
Adding the figures together, the accounting firm estimated an annual financial value capture of from $3.2 to $3.4 billion for NTTA as compared to $3.4 billion for Cintra.
PricewaterhouseCooper’s representatives, who also provided upside and downside scenarios based on greater than or less than the base numbers used, expressed concerns over a lack of guarantees with the NTTA proposal as well as its not meeting criteria set forth by TxDOT and already agreed to by Cintra.
“The key is for you to understand who carries those risks,” said Arthur Baines, the accounting firm’s representative.
Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, presented a summary sheet on the two proposals, saying he felt several risks were higher with the NTTA proposal - and that the risks would be borne by the public under NTTA’s bid as opposed to the private sector under Cintra’s.
RTC board member Wendy Davis, a Fort Worth City Council member who voted against NTTA, noting the tollway authority “had the benefit of Cintra’s numbers.”
A loss of credibility in the process was among the concerns expressed by Davis, who said the private sector might be driven away from the table as a result of the direction the process had taken.