DALLAS -- The Texas Turnpike Authority has unanimously approved studying the feasibility of taking over a 26-mile Dallas suburban highway project and making it part of the Dallas North Tollway system for an estimated $700 million.

At a meeting last Thursday, turnpike members authorized resolutions to spend up to $1 million to determine the feasibility of turning a longdelayed project started by the Texas department of transportation seven years ago into a toll road.

The state highway 190 project is considered vital to relieving traffic congestion in the growing north Dallas suburbs and providing better access to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

Under the resolutions, HNTB Corp. will do engineering studies and Wilbur Smith Associates will do traffic and revenue studies for a four-lane road that would run from state highway 78 to Interstate 635 north of Dallas.

The board also approved a resolution requesting the authority's financial adviser, First Southwest Co., and the agency staff to develop and issue a request for qualifications from investment bankers. Early estimates indicate that up to $375 million of revenue bonds could be sold in August 1995 if the project is deemed feasible and gets final approval.

Authority executive director Jim Griffin said the board was seeking innovative financing plans on the revenue bond offering. "Investment bankers may present some unique plans we would like to evaluate," Griffin told the board at the Thursday meeting.

Once the requests for qualifications are received, they will be evaluated by the authority's finance committee and staff, and an agreement will be negotiated with the best team if the project moves forward, according to the resolution approved.

In addition, a project counsel will be retained as well as the authority's bond counsel, McCall Parkhurst & Horton.

The Texas Turnpike Authority's move to take over the road project culminates months of efforts by a coalition of north Dallas suburbs, which have been fighting to get the project accelerated.

"This project is moving along faster than anyone anticipated," said Jere Thompson Jr., a turnpike board member and head of the new projects committee.

Led by Collin County Judge Ron Harris, the coalition was frustrated by constant delays of state highway 190 by the Texas department of transportation, which gave other projects access to limited funding.

Harris said the transportation department was postponing the project up to 15 to 20 years or well into the 21st century despite a growing need to alleviate traffic on Interstate 635 and neighborhood roads in the booming suburbs north of Dallas. The Texas Turnpike Authority would plan to complete the highway by 2001.

"It will improve mobility. It will improve air quality," Harris said. And, he said, "it will get built 15 years earlier."

So far, the program has garnered widespread support and has been or is expected to be endorsed by Richardson, Plano, Farmer's Branch, Garland, and other suburban communities that would be affected by the new toll road.

Plans call for completing the studies within the next six months and moving forward with financing and construction plans next year if all goes as expected and receives approval.

Over all, early estimates indicate that the project would cost $700 million, although that could change once the studies are done. Under the plan, the Texas Turnpike Authority would pick up $375 million of the cost. Almost all of that money would come from bond sales and the remainder from surplus funds from the Dallas North Tollway extension project scheduled for completion in September.

The balance would come from the Texas department of transportation in completed or planned construction as well as right-of-way acquisition and other items, according to project consultant Dan Becker, vice president for HNTB Corp.

Becker said about $175 million in construction, such as interchanges and frontage roads, already has been completed by the transportation department, which started the state highway 190 project in 1987.

Also, the transportation department would provide $150 million in additional funds through construction of more interchanges, frontage road, and right-of-way acquisition.

Becker said the transportation department already has completed environmental studies for most of the project, although the five-mile superconnector that would provide a five-mile link from I-35 to I-635 still lacks such a study.

"It hugs the Trinity River," he said. "It's near a floodplain."

If studies determine the road is feasible, construction would begin as early as next year. It would more than double the size of the Dallas North Tollway system from 21 miles when an extension opens this September to 47 miles.

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