Local Officials Concerned Over TxDOT Money-Saving Proposal
by: Gail Delaughter, August 28, 2013 10:08:00 am
Earlier this month city and county leaders got a letter from TxDOT with news that came as a surprise. TxDOT said it wanted to turn back control of about 2,000 miles of roads it currently maintains.
That would mean local governments would have to start footing the bill for things like resurfacing and pothole repair.
"There are some significant budgetary challenges to the operation of TxDOT."
That's Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Moseley, who used to head the Greater Houston Partnership.
"Those financial challenges are causing the agency to look at practices and kind of question how we go forward."
Moseley says one of the things TxDOT is questioning is continued maintenance of many of the state's farm-to-market roads.
The roads were originally intended for farmers and ranchers to bring their products to market. But many of those roads are now busy commercial thoroughfares, like Westheimer Road near the Galleria, and FM 2920 in Tomball.
Moseley says the money that now goes to local road maintenance could be better used for other projects, like increasing capacity on the state's congested freeways.
"We have 1,200 new Texans every day moving into our state. Many of these families are bringing two automobiles, and about 85% of those are coming into the urban areas of Texas, including Houston."
During the last legislative session, TxDOT said it needed about $4 billion for future transportation needs.
The proposed turnback program is estimated to save TxDOT about $165 million.
Now if local governments get control of the roads they can regulate things speed limits and driveway access, but officials are left asking what that proposal would mean for city and counties struggling to maintain roads already under their jurisdiction.
Alan Clark manages transportation programs for the Houston-Galveston Area Council.
"Is it voluntary? Would it be those roads, or portions of roads, which local governments agree to accept? Or is this something which the state might choose to mandate?"
The Texas Transportation Commission says if the turnback proposal becomes a reality, the intent is to leave roads in good condition before they're returned to local control.
But commissioners say they're not even close to a final decision on how to proceed.