MoPac to heist tax money to build toll lanes

Link to article here.

Construction of toll lanes on Mopac could get big savings
By Juan Castillo
Austin American Statesman
Monday, June 11, 2012

A project to build two express toll lanes on MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) got a little closer to a six-month, $130 million jump-start on Monday night when the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board agreed to allocate that money to the toll agency behind the project.

The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will use the funding to build a toll lane on each side of MoPac from Lady Bird Lake to Parmer Lane. Earlier this year, officials estimated that the 11-mile project would cost about $200 million in construction expenses.

The funding agreement still needs to be approved by the Texas Transportation Commission to take effect.

Under the agreement approved Monday, CAMPO will allocate the mobility authority the $130 million for construction of the express lanes. In exchange, the mobility authority will repay the money by establishing a regional infrastructure fund, into which it will pay $230 million over 25 years. CAMPO would use that money for other area road projects.

Under traditional financing methods, officials estimated the total cost for the toll lanes would be $544 million.

The terms approved Monday differed from a previous proposal when the toll agency suggested paying the money back over 22 years at 3 percent interest.

Some CAMPO board members later suggested that the interest rate was too low and that the payoff too slow. At the time, Mike Heiligenstein, the mobility authority's executive director, said the agency welcomed discussion of changes.

CAMPO Executive Director Maureen McCoy said the basic terms of the agreement were negotiated in advance of Monday's meeting. CAMPO's website cited benefits from the agreement, including lowering the cost of development to allow for flexibility in toll rates and keeping project revenues local rather than making payments to out-of-state bondholders and lenders.

"This agreement we've negotiated keeps all funding local and allows the region to avoid $314 million in cost over the life of the project; those are savings that directly benefit Austin commuters," Austin Council Member Sheryl Cole said in a statement.

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