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TxDOT won't force cities to pick up cost of road projects

By Richard Yeakley
Aug. 30, 2013 at 10 p.m.

The Texas Department of Transportation's proposal to turn over maintenance of roads that run through Texas cities to those municipalities is likely to become voluntary after widespread criticism.

Longview City Manager David Willard wrote a letter this week to TxDOT's executive director, adding his voice to a growing majority of opponents, including state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, and Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler.

"At this point, the conversation is still very much on the table. We are having dialogue with those various communities and looking toward a discussion about making this more a voluntary participation," TxDOT spokesman David Glessner said Friday after the Texas Transportation Commission met Thursday to discuss the proposal. "Until those discussions are held, we have no strategy for moving forward."

The plan would hand over 1,900 miles of roads to urban cities and counties across Texas, including about 28 miles of roadway in Longview, such as segments of U.S. 80, U.S. 259, Spur 63, Judson Road, Gilmer Road, Texas 31, Jaycee Drive and Gum Springs Road.

TxDOT was ordered by the Legislature to cut $100 million from its budget during the 2014-15 biennium and put it toward the agency's multi-billion dollar debt.

TxDOT has framed the proposal to give roads back to local government as a "partnership" it wants to have with cities with a population of more than 50,000 residents.

In an Aug. 13 letter to Mayor Jay Dean, TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson wrote the agency's "turnback program is envisioned as a cooperative venture between TxDOT and local jurisdictions to increase control."

Willard laid out his case against the program Wednesday to TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson.

In a letter to Wilson that was copied to Eltife, Simpson and state Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, Willard argued that much of the 28 miles being considered for "turnback" in Longview was not "primarily local traffic" - a criteria for roads to considered.

"Let me be clear that I understand TxDOT's need to be financially viable. However, I don't believe the turnback program to be the most appropriate method for achieving that goal," Willard wrote. "The proposal suggests that the roads in question are serving as 'primarily local traffic.' In Longview's case, the roads include anything inside Loop 281, including major highways such as U.S. Highway 80, U.S. Highway 259, and Highway 31 and Spur 63. All of these roads provide transportation well beyond our community."

Eltife said Friday he is against the proposal and is glad to hear the program may take a voluntary form.

"I was totally opposed to it from the beginning. All it is is shifting a problem from the state level to the local level," Eltife said. "We need new revenues to solve this problem, and it is an unfunded mandate. ... I am glad to see that TxDOT appears to be backing off, and it may be a voluntary program."

Simpson said TxDOT should focus on efficiency and called a hypothetical unilateral decision to "dump" the responsibility on another governing body "unreasonable."

"First of all, I thought it was untimely. We had the whole Legislature there most of the summer, and we didn't hear about this. And secondly, it is unreasonable that they would even consider doing something like that unilaterally," Simpson said. "It is a big agency, and they need to look for efficiencies within their own budget."

Glessner said any funds obtained from cities would go to help other roads across the state, not in the department's coffers.



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