PPP for $1.8bn Texas highway green-lighted

The thee-phased project seeks to refurbish a nine-mile portion of State Highway 183, adding managed lanes to it. A RFQ for a design, build, operate, finance and maintain partner is out.

A planned public-private partnership (PPP) to refurbish State Highway 183 (SH 183), or “Airport Freeway”, in Dallas got the go-ahead Monday, allowing the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to begin casting for a potential partner.

The Texas Transportation Commission authorised the department to publish a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the project. The PPP could entail a design, build, operate, finance and maintain (DBOFM) agreement, TxDOT said.

The PPP was conceived under Senate Bill 1420 (SB 1420), passed in June, which enabled TxDOT to proceed with tolling SH 183. The project is split into three phases, with a total cost of $1.8 billion and a concession term of up to 52 years, according to the RFQ. Some $648 million of public funds have been earmarked for the project, the document revealed.

In the “first phase” of the PPP, estimated to cost $608 million, TxDOT has slated Airport Freeway to be converted into a toll road and is also eager to rebuild its entire westbound surface as well as a “portion” of its eastbound general purpose lane.

TxDOT said “initial development plans [are in place] solely for Phase 1 with subsequent triggers for issuance of one or more ‘notices to proceed’ for construction of Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the project”.

The nine-mile project would also require frontage road construction and span from “State Highway 161 to State Highway 114 (SH 114) and from SH 114 to Interstate 35 East (I-35E) in Irving and Dallas”, TxDOT said in a statement. The department added that a request for proposals (RFP) would be issued after the completion of the RFQ in late 2012, with construction expected to begin in 2013.

Russell Zapalac, chief planning and project officer for TxDOT, called the mandate a “major step toward addressing congestion and improving safety in a seriously-congested DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth) area corridor”. “The P3 agreement will accelerate the construction schedule and deliver a high-quality transportation facility at a great value,” Zapalac said.

Texas has possibly the most active transportation department in the US, pursuing highway construction via the private sector as well as leveraging public money.

In April, TxDOT began examining if a PPP could relieve traffic congestion on State Highway 288 (SH 288), while continuing to move ahead on its Interstate 35 (I-35) PPP, a budding DBOFM agreement, though doubt has arisen whether tolling is feasible for I-35.

TxDOT had been pursuing a PPP for the long-gestating $1.4 billion Grand Parkway Project – also known as State Highway 99 – a 37-mile toll road in Houston, but by February had chosen to procure the project via a design-build contract.