"The project is one of hundreds of projects around the state that have been affected by the budget cuts enacted last November at TxDOT."
Drainage work delayed as state road budget shrinks
February 15, 2008
By Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun
The project to fix the drainage problems on Seventh Avenue has been suspended, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.
The plan was to install a storm sewer system along Texas Highway 31 as it goes through Corsicana, a stretch of road that floods badly when it rains.
Now, the project is on hold, although it hasn’t been completely abandoned.
“Instead of canceling it, we just suspended it,” said Ray Nance, assistant area engineer in Navarro County.
The project is one of hundreds of projects around the state that have been affected by the budget cuts enacted last November at TxDOT. The expectation is that the department will save about $500 million from all areas — right-of-way acquisition, new contracts, and daily operations, explained Chris Lippincott, spokesman for TxDOT in Austin.
The 25 TxDOT area districts originally had $412 million to spend, but that was reduced to $275 million in November of 2007. Unfortunately, the cuts were announced two months into the fiscal year, when the districts had already spent a big chunk of the expected budget.
In the Dallas district, which includes Navarro County, the 2008 budget went from $54 million to $35.9 million, but the district had already spent $12 million when the budget cuts were announced, explained Kelli Petras, spokeswoman for the Dallas district of TxDOT. By December, the district had to go from spending about $6 million a month to about $2 million a month.
“Obviously, we’re still trying to get things done, but we’ve got to prioritize,” Petras explained.
The cuts are the result of less income statewide, both from federal money, and gas taxes, as people cut back on buying gas, according to Lippincott.
“We’ve experienced slower than usual reimbursements from the federal government for our expenditures, and the state motor fuel tax revenues are lower than projected,” he said.
Whether Texans are paying $1.50 for a gallon of gas, or $3 for a gallon of gas, the state gets a flat 20 cents per gallon, not a percentage. As the overall price for each gallon goes up, Texans are trying to conserve more, which means less collected tax.
“People do two things: They drive the same car less, or they buy a more fuel-efficient vehicle,” Lippincott said. “That’s a good thing for air quality, and we support that, but it cuts into our revenue available for the roads. You’re paying less in gas taxes in a month because you’re buying less gas.”
At the local level, the suspension of the Seventh Avenue drainage project is a blow, said Connie Standridge, Corsicana city manager.
“This was one of our most anticipated TxDOT projects,” she said. “We’re very sorry to see it on hold, and we hope we can get it back on track soon.”
The Navarro office of TxDOT will continue to work on the designs, but won’t be able to use the consultants on the job until the budget loosens, Nance said.
“We’ve got added review time to look at the (designs),” he said. “(The consultants) just can’t address them at this point because they can’t charge for it.”
Statewide, the money is being put into maintenance, rather than new projects, Lippincott said.
“Our priority will be maintenance, the preservation of our transportation system rather than beginning new construction projects,” he said, explaining that keeping up with repairs helps forestall expensive reconstruction work in the future.
“We do not build what we cannot maintain,” Lippincott said.
Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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