What it costs to build a road these days

TOLLROADSnews looks at the Sam Rayburn Tollway (aka State Highway 121) across the north Dallas metro:

[TX 121] is a typical modern Texan urban highway with the grade separated interchanges for the tolled mainline lanes which are straddled by parallel frontage road lanes. These frontage roads provide access and egress to and from the expressway lanes via simple slip ramps. They also allow untolled trips for motorists who will endure traffic signals at the at-grade intersections with cross-streets.

It might be a little bit more flexible than, say, Maryland’s Intercounty Connector:

The MDICC is a simple 3+3 lanes expressway with two fancy expressway-to-expressway interchange (at US29 and I-95) plus six other simple local diamond interchanges (MD355, Shady Grove Metro parking, MD97, MD182, MD650, Virginia Manor Rd).

Otherwise, these are fairly similar roads, both intended to take some traffic away from existing arterials, both set up for electronic tolling, and neither burdened with river crossings or anything complicated like that.

The Texas road, 26 miles long, cost $1.43 billion; the 18-mile Maryland road cost $2.57 billion. There are several reasons for this disparity, but one of the biggest was that the only question about the Sam Rayburn was who was going to build it in the first place, the toll authority or a private-sector concessionaire. In Maryland, however, the NIMBYs were out in full force, and, says the News, “Build/no-build conflict tends to produce added cost in delay and projects to ‘buy off’ environmentalist opponents.”

Most of Texas’ road-construction workforce is nonunion. By law, none of Maryland’s is.

And there’s this:

The state of Maryland came in with GARVEE bonds (grant anticipation revenue) bonds and an appropriation from general funds for about half the costs of the MDICC so there was much less pressure to contain costs than in Texas where the state DOT and the regional toll authority was expected to fully fund the TX121SRT.

ODOT doesn’t have any big schemes like this on its plate, but they’re still trying to finish the Crosstown Expressway 2.0 before the 3.0 version becomes necessary.


  1. Tatyana »

    5 July 2011 · 7:55 pm

    What does it mean, “grant anticipation bond”? Is that where those “infrastructure stimulus” money went?
    I guess recession is hunky-dory for some people…

  2. CGHill »

    5 July 2011 · 8:21 pm

    Apparently it was shovel-ready, after a fashion.

    GARVEE, as a program, has existed for about a decade and a half; it enables states to issue highway bonds based on the expectation that the Feds will eventually fork over some Highway Trust Fund dollars. If I remember correctly, this is not an actual Federal guarantee.

  3. Tatyana »

    5 July 2011 · 8:23 pm

    So those bond-holders might be unpleasantly surprised one day?

  4. CGHill »

    5 July 2011 · 8:49 pm

    Theoretically, anyway. (Though given the parlous state of the Treasury these days, perhaps it’s not entirely theoretical anymore.)

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