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Few bids submitted to build US 290 toll road

Thursday, February 23, 2006 by

CTRMA will choose firm from among three partnerships Only three partnerships submitted bids to oversee the US 290 East toll project, a drop from the five that bid on the US 183A project and a point of concern for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority’s (CTRMA) board of directors at yesterday’s meeting.

The CTRMA will sign a comprehensive development agreement (CDA) with a partnership that will lead the design-build project on US 290E, possibly as early as August. The choice of a partner started with a request for development partners. Yesterday the CTRMA staff short-listed the three partnerships who had bid.

The three partnerships and their equity partners are Walnut Creek Constructors ( Gilbert Texas Construction and J.D. Abrams), Granite-Austin Bridge & Road ( Granite Construction and Austin Bridge & Road) and Lone Star Infrastructure 290E ( Fluor Enterprises, Balfour Beatty Construction and TJ Lambrecht Construction). The three firms will provide more comprehensive plans for consideration. Board members at the CTRMA meeting yesterday questioned why the project had yielded only three interested teams. Executive Director Mike Heiligenstein noted that it was his sense, from the most recent Team Texas meeting, that it was a busy and competitive time for projects across the state. Some contractors are even seeing competitors come to work sites to steal away key staff members.

Director of Engineering Everett Owens called the smaller number part of the “shaking out” process. More teams bid on the first project as simply a way to “test the waters.” Now some of those firms have decided the CDA is not for them or would prefer to bid on projects in the concession process. Under a concession agreement, the team would offer an up front lump sum, plus some amount of subsequent revenue, to build and run the toll road operations. The Trans-Texas Corridor, for instance, is a concession project.

The work the CTRMA is doing on US 290E can be divided into two tracks: work towards a CDA agreement, and work that can be done before a CDA agreement is complete. While the CDA is being negotiated, the mobility authority would complete its feasibility study on the project, which will eventually be measured against a traffic and revenue estimate that should be completed by early fall. It would be the CTRMA’s preference to push the US 290E expansion past Manor all the way out to FM 973. The results of the two studies will be instrumental in determining the scope of the project, Owens said.

The CTRMA, by regulation, cannot start construction until the environmental clearance is completed but the mobility authority can begin the process of right-of-way acquisition. Since the US 290E project is a joint project of the Texas Department of Transportation and the CTRMA, either side could begin the right-of-way acquisition process. Owens said the CTRMA would prefer to take the lead in the process to expedite the timeline, a point that is still being negotiated with TxDOT.

The US 290E project, adding lanes in the median between US 183 and FM 973, could cost up to $355 million, according to early estimates. Heiligenstein said the project will be funded by a mix of local, state and federal sources, including the possible use of federal emergency management funds, since US 290E serves as an evacuation route out of Houston in the case of a hurricane.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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