After years of debate, the first real signs of progress by the North Texas Tollway Authority on the Trinity Parkway are expected to take shape this morning. The NTTA board is set to award nearly $35 million in contracts for a variety of design and other services related to the controversial toll road.
Most of the money, about $30 million, will be spent to hire about eight firms that together will oversee the preliminary design of the Trinity Parkway. The road, about 9 miles long, will begin as a four-lane toll road through the Trinity River Corridor.
The firms will bring the proposed road to a "design threshold" of about 30 percent - an important milestone, given that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it won't evaluate the project until it sees at least that much of its design complete. The Army Corps must approve the road, because it is being built inside a floodway.
Perhaps even more important than the design work, which is expected to be completed by spring, is a contract for about $200,000 with Wilbur Smith Associates, a national firm specializing in projecting toll revenues and traffic.
That money will cover a preliminary traffic and revenue study, a necessary first step for NTTA to decide whether it wants to make the project one of its own toll roads or hand it off to the state once the preliminary design and other early work are completed.
NTTA has long promised to push forward the road, but has stopped short of committing to build it, noting that the estimated price tag of $1.8 billion could easily rise, depending on when, and whether, the federal government approves its course through the levees.
Without a solid understanding of how much in tolls the road would generate, the agency cannot determine how much it can afford to borrow to build the road.