More on TxDOT’s “Turnback” Proposal

 

As reported in last week’s Legislative Update, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has sent a letter to cities with a population of more than 50,000 – as well as select smaller cities adjoining or surrounded by those larger cities– informing them that TxDOT intends to consider transferring all maintenance of certain non-controlled-access state highways to the cities in which they are located. TxDOT has dubbed the proposal “turnback.”

News agencies around the state have been reporting on the proposal.  The League issued a press release on the issue, and since that time dozens of newspapers and television stations have picked up the story. 

The League filed an open records request for and received maps from TxDOT identifying the cities and roads proposed for turnback. The yearly maintenance bill for these roads is estimated at $165 million statewide. 

From TML’s  legal perspective, it appears that TxDOT probably can’t unilaterally turn over title of state-owned roads to cities, though TxDOT may disagree.  Even without “turnover,” however, TxDOT might simply reduce or end state maintenance funding for those roads, or attempt to renegotiate a city’s “municipal maintenance agreement” to require exclusive city maintenance.  (City attorneys or others interested in the League’s legal analysis of the issue can contact Scott Houston, the League’s General Counsel, at shouston@tml.org.)

Many unanswered questions and issues are yet to be addressed by TxDOT.  Chief among municipal concerns is simply the principal of fairness:  City residents pay the lion’s share of the state’s gas tax, and expect that a proportionate amount of that money will be spent for their benefit.  The turnback proposal would appear to take their money and spend it elsewhere. 

The turnback proposal will be discussed by the Texas Transportation Commission at its August 29th meeting.  League representatives will participate in that meeting and submit comments.  Additionally, several mayors – including TML President John Monaco of Mesquite– in the affected cities have expressed concerns and may speak at the meeting.

Considering that cities contribute millions in cash, right-of-way donations, and in-kind services to state highway construction, any city official with concerns about the TxDOT proposal should plan to attend the meeting and testify against the proposal or submit written comments.  (For a good letter addressing the topic, see Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price’s open letter to fellow mayors regarding the proposal.)

The hearing will take place on August 29, 2013, beginning at 9:00 a.m.  The location is 125 East 11thStreet in Austin.The agenda is available at: http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/administration/commission/2013-meetings.html.

Written comments may be sent to:

Mr. Phil Wilson
Executive Director
Texas Department of Transportation
125 East 11th Street
Austin, TX 78701

Any city official who plans to testify in person at the meeting should let the League know by contacting Shanna Igo, Deputy Executive Director, at sigo@tml.org.Please copy Shanna on any written correspondence as well.

 

TML member cities may use the material herein for any purpose. No other person or entity may reproduce, duplicate, or distribute any part of this document without the written authorization of the Texas Municipal League.

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