AUSTIN (KXAN) - It appears cities and counties will not be forced to cover the costs of maintaining nearly 1,900 miles of urban highway - unless they want to.
On Thursday the Texas Transportation Commission met to discuss the transfer of such roads - now maintained by TxDOT – to local governments. These are essentially "highways" that function like a city street.
- Check out our original in-depth report here.
TxDOT estimates the program could save the state as much as $165 million a year – in a time when highway funding is stretched thin. Though there was strong opposition from many local leaders throughout Texas, Executive Director Phil Wilson clarified the agency’s intent: the plan would be voluntary.
“I propose a voluntary participation program that initially would allow cities and counties to ask to assume the responsibility for and ownership of non-freeway roadways within their jurisdiction that are currently designated as state highways,” Wilson said in a statement.
Wilson recommended that local entities that take over one of these roads receive compensation for a year’s worth of maintenance costs for that stretch.
“Since TxDOT is committed to handing back these local highways in good condition, it is likely these additional maintenance funds could provide sufficient revenues for ongoing maintenance for several years or be applied to other road projects in the city or county,” he said.
TxDOT said the list included 38 roads at 115 miles in Central Texas. In Austin, it was more than 72 new miles of roadway. The city’s mayor indicated such a move would not be in Austin’s best financial interest.
"The impact to our community alone could be more than $10 million in local maintenance costs," said Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "These added costs are a concern because they will greatly increase property taxes and fees within our community."
Additionally, Travis County had about 14 more miles of urban highways. Rock and Cedar Park had a total of 19 more miles, while the Williamson County had about 9.5 more miles.
"The estimated cost for maintenance of the roads remain a concern," said Leffingwell. "I appreciate TxDOT's willingness to consider the input they have received, and I look forward to continue working with them on this and other issues."
TxDOT already has the authority to remove roads from the state highway system, but it has happened in the past by working with local governments. One example is Austin taking over a portion of Airport Boulevard several years ago.
Just as it has before, the Transportation Commission would have to approve each road transfer under this plan.
“TxDOT is pleased to continue the discussion of this creative program with its partners as together we keep Texas moving into the future,” Wilson added.
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