The Texas Transportation Commission has accepted an offer this month by a consortium led by Madrid-based infrastructure and toll road developer Cintra to invest $6 billion for the first phase of the Trans Texas Corridor from Oklahoma to Mexico. The team, which includes Zachry Construction Corp., San Antonio, and Earth Tech, Long Beach, Calif., plans to finance right-of-way acquisition, as well as design and construction of 400 miles of toll road by 2010. In return, it will receive a 50-year concession to operate and maintain the highway from Dallas to San Antonio.

The Trans Texas Corridor is a long-range plan to build a 1,200-ft-wide statewide corridor with separated passenger and freight roadways, commuter and freight rail lines and a utility lane. The first phase will parallel Interstate 35.
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The team will pay the Texas Dept. of Transportation $1.2 billion in concession fees during the construction period. TxDOT officials say they will use the money to extend the corridor north from Dallas to the Oklahoma border and south from San Antonio to the Rio Grande River. TxDOT will pay for environmental investigation and permitting.

The commission made the selection Dec. 16 and TxDOT expects to sign a contract after 30 to 60 days of negotiations. Teams led by Fluor Corp. and Skanska also submitted proposals. The conceptual development in each proposal constituted 41% of its total score, financial strength 40%, project management 10%, quality management 5% and price 4%.


Texas Transportation Commissioner Robert Nichols says Cintra’s team was chosen primarily because it was willing to put more equity into the project than the others. "They are going to take a lot of risk,’’ he says.

More than 50% of Texas’ population lives along I-35 and freight hauled on it has doubled since 1994. "Looking at the growth of Texas in the past and projections for the future, it is clear that Cintra thinks the reward is greater than the risk,’’ Nichols says.

TxDOT will spend the next 12 to 15 months refining the corridor location, says Nichols. A draft environmental impact statement is being prepared and a refined proposal will be out in the spring.

The road segment south of Austin to I-10 has environmental clearance and construction should begin in two years. That section ultimately will end at San Antonio. Right-of-way and construction will cost $710 million.

The near-term project phase is divided into seven segments. A portion of the $1.2-billion concession fee will be paid at the start of each piece. Cintra will pay TxDOT a $37-million concession fee for the segment from south of Austin to San Antonio when the contract is signed.

Cintra’s master development plan will be a "live instrument,’’ says Jose Lopez de Fuentez, Cintra’s director for U.S. and Latin America. "It can change and be modified.’’ The roads will start with four 13-ft-wide lanes for cars and trucks. As traffic grows, more lanes will be added.

The original four lanes ultimately will be only for trucks, says Jon Engelke, Earth Tech section manager. Each dedicated roadway will be separated by a 270-ft median, in which new passenger lanes can be added. Ultimately there will be four freight lanes and six passenger lanes.

The other six projects include a $1.79- billion road from south to east of Dallas and a $775-million road from east to north of Dallas, both to start construction in 2009. A $986-million extension from Austin to Temple and a $1.7-billion extension from Temple to Dallas will start in 2010. A $489-million extension from east to south of San Antonio and an $852-rail extension will begin in 2011. A freight rail line would start by 2007.

Cintra’s only other large U.S. investment is Chicago’s Skyway Bridge. In joint venture with Sydney, Australia-based Macquarie Bank Ltd., it will lease the bridge for 99 years for $1.82 billion in up-front cash in a deal closing in January. The city had finished a $250-million rehab of the bridge in November. It will use the cash to pay for the construction, fund city programs, pay down debt and bolster reserves. The 7.8-mile bridge connects the Dan Ryan Expressway with the Indiana Toll Road.