Highway shortfall estimate skyrockets
Five highways would cost $2.5 billion, TxDOT
says. Without tolls, plan could be as much as
$1.7 billion short
August 14, 2007
The gap between the $2.5 billion cost of five
potential tollways in Austin and the money on
hand could be more than three times the previous
estimate, officials said Monday.
The huge change comes from needing money for
about 70 percent of project costs instead of
about a quarter because of cuts in government
spending and cost increases. That could alter
the calculus as the Capital Area Metropolitan
Planning Organization board moves toward an
October decision on which of the proposed
highway projects might have to be tollways.
Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for the
Texas Department of Transportation, said in July
that the gap between available tax money and the
cost of building or expanding U.S. 290 East,
U.S. 183, Texas 71 East, Texas 45 Southwest and
the Oak Hill "Y" was about $500 million.
On Monday, he told the CAMPO board that the
void is $1 billion to $1.8 billion, depending on
how badly federal funding falls off in the next
"It's a bigger hole than we thought we were
in," said state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin,
chairman of the CAMPO board.
The cost of some of the roads, for one thing.
Daigh now says that building elevated
expressways with frontage roads at the Oak Hill
convergence of U.S. 290 and Texas 71 would be
$411 million. The earlier estimate was $277
million, and advocates for a ground-level
parkway (with no frontage roads) argue that it
could be done for less than $100 million.
The cost for the Texas 71 East project
increased $150 million, to almost $1 billion,
for building a multilevel interchange with U.S.
183 and building express lanes and frontage
roads from Riverside Drive to Texas 130.
The main difference, however, came from the
state Transportation Department headquarters.
Daigh said he was told last week that the state
could not guarantee that any of the estimated
$825 million for right of way, moving utility
lines and design of the projects would be
available from the state.
Congress, as part of a nationwide move, has
withdrawn $666 million of federal money
previously allocated to Texas, and more cuts are
expected in the coming months and years.
Watson, who took over the CAMPO board when he
became a senator in January, has been holding
public meetings this year to tease out the real
costs and available options for the road
Introduction and quick passage by CAMPO of a
similar toll road plan in 2004 caused a
sustained public uproar, particularly over
charging tolls on roads already under
CAMPO members now say they will not toll all
lanes on completed sections of U.S. 183 and
Texas 71, though the possibility remains that
one lane in each direction could be a "managed
lane" with tolls.
Next week, Daigh will outline the possible
funding and toll scenarios for the CAMPO board.
CAMPO will hold four community meetings on the
plan late this month, and the board will hold a
public hearing Sept. 10.
The board is scheduled to vote on the plan