Maintenance of 42 miles of streets in Tyler could transfer from state to municipality in what could cost the city $30 million throughout time and result in tax hikes to pay for it.
The Texas Transportation Commission is weighing the proposed Turn Back Program, which would transfer ownership of state-owned roads, used primarily for local traffic, to local governments, Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Becky Ozuna said.
The program ensures local control and allows local governments to make decisions to better protect property values and respond to the needs of local residents and businesses, Ms. Ozuna said.
“For example, through a transfer, a local government would have total control of traffic flow, parking, driveway access, speed limits, road closures, and maintenance schedules,” she said.
But city of Tyler officials oppose the proposed plan, saying the costs could mean a penny tacked on to the tax rate.
City Manager Mark McDaniel said Wednesday that the state is expected to spend $700,000 to maintain its roads within the city limits this year.
“That doesn’t include the re-surfacing and overlay of the existing streets,” McDaniel said, adding that throughout time this work could total $30 million.
The commission meets today in Austin, and McDaniel said he will be there to voice opposition, he said. No action is expected on the road transfer proposal.
“This is the mother of all unfunded mandates,” he said, adding that state lawmakers did not do their duty during the recent legislative session.
“I don’t blame the (Texas Transportation commissioners) — the governor and the Legislature didn’t pay for the roads,” McDaniel said in reference to the recent Legislative session.
The Tyler roads under state control include State Highways 155, 110, 69, 64 and 31, McDaniel said. Most of what the city would have to handle would be inside Loop 323.
TxDOT needs about $4 billion just to maintain current state roads and up to $8 billion to relieve road congestion by expanding current roads or building new ones, he said.
A proposition will go before Texas voters in November 2014 to decide whether to use $1 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to help the highway issue. But it still won’t be enough to solve the problem, McDaniel said.
In an Aug. 26 letter to State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Mayor Barbara Bass talked about the city’s longstanding, good working relationship with TxDOT and said she was disappointed to learn that such a plan was even being contemplated.
“We have chosen to decrease our staffing, defer projects and undertake initiatives … to cut costs and increase efficiency,” Mayor Bass stated in her letter to Eltife. “Passing these costs on to others was not, and is not, an option,”
Eltife in a phone interview Wednesday acknowledged that lawmakers “had not done our job at the state level” regarding transportation funding.
“Shoveling the program onto cities and counties is not right,” he said.
Eltife filed legislation that would have adjusted the fuel tax according to inflation and implemented a half-cent sales tax increase to fund roads. He said in July there is little political courage among legislators to raise taxes or fees.
“We have to have new revenue to solve the problem —no matter what type of revenue,” he said