DALLAS -- Harris County, Tex., officials should know by tomorrow whether the attorney general will back a plan allowing the Texas Turnpike Authority to effectively sell its troubled Houston Ship Channel Bridge.
"We would expect to get back to them sometime later this week," Jim Thomassen, assistant attorney general and chief of the state's public finance section, said yesterday after a meeting with county officials who support the plan.
The officials and their lawyers met with the attorney general's office to outline what they believe is the legal authority that would allow the turnpike to "license" its project to the county-created Beltway 8 Transportation Corp.
Under the never-used arrangement, the Turnpike Authority would retain ownership of the project. However, the transportation corporation would sell up to $320 million of new junior and senior debt to defease outstanding turnpike bonds and expand the project.
If successful, Harris County officials say it would give them local control of the project and avert a default anticipated in 1996 when revenues fall short of debt service.
County officials are pursuing the unique licensing arrangement after the attorney general last month said it could find no specific legal authorization allowing or preventing the authority from selling the project outright.
However, Mr. Thomassen said there is specific statutory language in this case that addresses when and how the Turnpike Authority may license one of its projects.
"What they are looking for is an indication that this office would approve the bonds to acquire the license or franchise to operate the bridge," he said.
The attorney general's decision could also affect tentative plans by the Turnpike Authority to transfer control of its Dallas North Tollway and Mountain Creek Lake Bridge projects to a Dallas County corporation.