Economy stalls Mississippi toll road

| 11/9/2009

The concept of a private-sector investor building the new Airport Parkway toll road in Mississippi is on hold because of the economy, officials said.

Three Spanish-based conglomerates were on the short list to submit bids by a mid-September deadline, but a winning proposal did not emerge, Mississippi Department of Transportation officials stated.

If the new roadway is eventually built, the 12-mile Airport Parkway would link Interstate 55 in Jackson to Mississippi Route 475 in Rankin County. Officials say it is needed to relieve congestion near the Jackson-Evers International Airport.

On the state’s short list to build, operate and maintain the roadway in exchange for 50 years of toll revenue are – or were – Jackson Access Mobility Group consisting of ACS and Dragados; Airport Parkway P3 Group consisting of Cintra and Ferrovial; and a company called Global Via.

As part of the financing package, MDOT had also applied for a federal grant under TIFIA – the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.

MDOT Executive Director Larry L. “Butch” Brown blames the economy for the stall.

“The private sector needs to demonstrate that it can deliver meaningful savings versus a traditional MDOT financing and delivery plan,” Brown said in a statement.

“For example, unless private sector bidders can genuinely deliver construction cost savings, operational savings, or financing savings, the numbers just don’t work. In this economy, revenue projections are under pressure and investment grade ratings for the project’s senior debt are difficult to obtain.”

The Mississippi State Legislature granted MDOT authority in 2007 to consider tolls for new highway construction, also known as “greenfield” projects. The authority does not extend to existing roadways.

The Airport Parkway was to have been the state’s first attempt at a public-private partnership for a toll road.

– By David Tanner, staff writer