Friday, April 25, 2008

TxDOT plans to spend more on toll roads, less on highway maintenance

Texas Transportation Commission cuts funding for road maintenance

April 25, 2008

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2008

AUSTIN – Texans can expect a bumpier ride over the next decade, as the state transportation department plans to spend considerably less on highway maintenance than it had previously anticipated.

A long-range funding plan approved by the Texas Transportation Commission on Thursday would reduce by about $4.9 billion the funds the Texas Department of Transportation plans to spend on maintenance between 2009 and 2019. That change will mean that by the end of that period, pavement conditions on one in five Texas roads will be below what the department calls "good or better."

In other business, the commission as expected unanimously approved the State Highway 161 agreement worked out last week by TxDOT and the North Texas Tollway Authority.

TxDOT strives to let only 10 percent of its roads fall below "good or better" condition. Currently, 13 percent do.

The impact will be more than just worsening pavement conditions and more potholes. In addition, TxDOT will sharply curtail improvements that are now routine – like adding sidewalks to some roads as part of repaving projects – but don't directly affect the quality of the roads.

By 2019, the state would need about $9 billion to catch up on the deferred maintenance to bring the pavement conditions to the 90 percent "good or better" target, said deputy executive director John Barton.

In reducing maintenance, the commission bowed to heavy pressure by legislators who have demanded TxDOT spend more to build roads.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst hailed the change in direction. "It's a signal to me that TxDOT wants to work with the Legislature," he said in an interview this week.

The $4.9 billion taken from maintenance Thursday is significantly less than regional officials were told to expect in a similar long-range plan presented five years ago. The local money provided in that plan was supposed to be spread out between 2004 and 2014. Now, local areas will have to make do with about 80 percent of what they had expected – and make it last until 2019 instead of 2014.

The Dallas and Tarrant districts will get $2.27 billion to spend by 2019, instead of the $2.6 billion it had counted on spending by 2014.

North Texas is uniquely insulated by the cuts, however. The Regional Transportation Council has already adopted plans to spend toll revenues provided by the State Highway 121 and 161 projects, said Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

© 2008 The Dallas Morning News:

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