Friday, December 14, 2007

Bob Daigh blames TxDOT funding cuts on the Iraq War


Federal cuts affect county road projects

Williamson is now having to do some state jobs, causing county projects to be delayed.

December 14, 2007

By Melissa Mixon
Austin American-Statesman
Copyright 2007

If the traffic in Williamson County gives you a headache now, brace yourself.

Plans to expand several roads in the county face delays because federal funding cuts and sharp inflation in road costs are forcing the state's transportation agency to tighten its belt.

Texas Department of Transportation officials recently told county leaders that they won't be able to fund the state's portion of seven county road projects, a loss that is estimated at $150 million to $200 million, said Mike Weaver, the county's transportation consultant.

County officials are scrambling to assess the impact, and there's even talk, however informal, about another bond referendum.

"It's put the county in a very difficult position. Everyone is now realizing the state doesn't have the money to keep up with the roads that are needed," said Richard Ridings, vice president of HNTB Corp., an engineering company hired by the county to handle several road projects. "I shudder to think how long it's going to take to build some of these projects."

TxDOT officials say they will not have money for their portion of the projects for at least two years. The county can wait until then, but officials say the cost of construction will increase in the meantime.

The seven road projects are part of the county's $228 million road bond package, which was passed in 2006. The package puts money toward 20 road projects, but sections of the seven roads in limbo were being funded mostly, if not entirely, by TxDOT.

That was the case for FM 1460 and Texas 195; both were scheduled to be widened. County leaders say those roads need the most immediate attention.

County Judge Dan A. Gattis said that nothing has been decided but that money from some other projects, like Chandler Road in eastern Williamson County, might have to be shifted to major projects. County and Round Rock leaders are trying to figure out how to fund the FM 1460 work.

Because of the funding cuts, Gattis said, the county may have to look into holding another bond vote.

"I'm certainly not looking to raise taxes, but we'll just have to play this thing by ear for the next year or so," he said. "We know that for the next two or three years, we're not going to be able to count on the state."

The federal funding cuts are a result of costs associated with the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, as well as the rapidly depleting federal highway trust fund. For Texas, that meant about $666 million in rescinded federal funds, said Bob Daigh, the Austin district engineer for TxDOT. Daigh said that up to an additional $1 billion is expected to be rescinded within the next two years.

Money that was intended for expanding and building roads will be used to maintain existing roads, he said.

"It's going to be a very tough period, but these are necessary changes," he said.; 246-0043

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