DALLAS -- The Texas Bond Review Board yesterday again delayed a final decision on a proposed $210 million bailout of the Houston Ship Channel Bridge project.
Rather than approve a proposed bond sale to restructure the debt and avert a default in 1996, the board directed its representatives to further study alternatives with the Texas Turnpike Authority.
A review board report is due by the July 23 meeting. Turnpike officials say a final decision could be made then.
"The board wants to be sure there is no further alternative," said Tom Pollard, executive director of the review board, which must approve all state-level debt sales. "Some of the delay has just been in trying to understand the implications of the financing."
Now, he said, the board and the authority will jointly review three alternatives previously studied by turnpike officials. They are privatizing the bridge; seeking legislative relief, including a constitutional amendment to allow for a loan; and involving the Harris County Toll Road Authority.
In April, the turnpike authority approved a plan to use $90 million of low-grade senior debt and $120 million of unrated junior bonds to avert a shortfall in debt service expected beginning in 1996.
The authority has said it expects its 1985 junior debt to default in four years when zero coupon bonds convert to interest-paying obligations with a 12.625% coupon. That change will cause debt service needs to rise to $21 million a year from $9 million.
As they have previously, those on the five-member board yesterday said the delay was designed to assure them that the offering is the best solution for the problem.
Turnpike officials have defended the debt restructuring proposed by PaineWebber Inc. and Lehman Brothers as the best answer to avert a default.
"Our board is 100% behind this project and this form of financing," said Bob Peterson, a senior vice president at First Southwest Co. of Dallas, the authority's financial adviser. "We want to cooperate with the bond review board, and 30 days isn't going to make a difference."
In other action, the review board yesterday authorized the Texas Public Finance Authority to sell $50 million of commercial paper to provide interim financing for a long-awaited equipment leasing program.
The issue is expected to be underwritten late this month by Lehman Brothers.