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George Bush Turnpike Costs Set To Rise By Nearly $290 Million

Engineering News Record (ENR)
February 12, 2001
By Debra K. Rubin

Project scope changes and more complex environmental requirements will boost the final cost of the President George Bush Turnpike in Texas up nearly $290 million. But officials of the North Texas Tollway Authority say they still have "resources" to cover the increase and that the agency's borrowing power is not harmed.

The authority announced Jan. 23 that the 30.5-mile highway near Dallas would cost $941 million by the time it is completed in 2004. That is up from the $652 million estimate offered in 1998 when the project sought bond financing. The turnpike's final 5-mile segment is generating most of the extra cost, says Mark Bouma, the authority's director of engineering. That section is now estimated to cost $417.6 million, up from $179 million originally estimated. Agency officials opted to increase the roadway from four to six lanes, with 8-lane bridges, he says. Alignment changes will also require most costly clearances, and right-of-way acquisition cost has mushroomed with nearby commercial development.

But meeting tougher environmental rules are the most costly, says Bouma. These include "significant changes in wetland remediation requirements" from the Army Corps of Engineers, he adds. There is also lead contamination requiring remediation. The extensive environmental permitting required for the last of the turnpike's four segments has delayed final design. Three consulting firms are handling that work.

Bouma says the agency has submitted a draft environmental review to the Federal Highway Administration and hopes for final approval by summer. The project has $135 million in federal funding under the former istea program. Environmental approval for the last segment had been expected in mid-1998, officials say.

Susan Buse, authority chief financial officer, says it has enough reserves and borrowing capacity to handle the increase. The agency "has been accumulating substantial balances in its capital improvement fund," she says. Credit agencies also supported the authority's financial health, not downgrading it because of the escalation. But some credit officials speculate that the cash crunch could affect new projects. Bouma says the additional turnpike cost should not affect its 2004 completion target. Construction bidding on the final section is set for December. Two segments, totaling 15 miles are already open. Another 5-mile segment, set to open in July, will now open in March. An additional one will open in January.

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