PORT ARTHUR —
A proposal recently floated by Texas Department of Transportation officials to transfer ownership of certain portions of state highways into the hands to Texas cities has met with resistance.
At issue are the nonfreeway areas of state highways that course through Texas cities.
TxDOT has proposed that cities volunteer to take ownership of those roads.
While the idea would generate up to $15 million in savings annually for the state, Texas cities would have to shoulder the cost of maintenance and road repairs.
For most attending an Aug. 29 meeting in Austin scheduled by TxDOT officials, the transfer was not something they could afford to take on.
Along with a room full of officials from other Texas cities, a delegation of Port Arthur city officials, Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, City Manager Floyd Johnson and Public Works Director Ross Blackketter, attended the meeting, where they met State Representative Joe Deshotel.
“From all across the state there was a good showing,” Johnson said.
The Port Arthur delegation was against the proposal, as were most delegations in attendance, Johnson said.
If Port Arthur were to take on the responsibility it would add about 30 miles of state highway to the city’s streets budget.
Among the added roadway is Texas 87, known as Gulfway Drive in the city limits. Texas 87 runs from the Texas 73/87 split all the way to Sabine Pass — all of which would become city property.
Johnson said the Port Arthur group came away from the meeting with a sense that TxDOT would not force the proposal on the city, unless it is something they agreed to.
While the cost of maintaining the highways would be prohibitive for many Texas cities, Johnson said there would be some advantages to taking control of the highway section.
If the city had control, maintenance would be on the city’s timeline rather than the states.
The city would also have control on where to place entryways and exits for any business locating along the highway, and could schedule grass cutting as needed, rather than the times TxDOT does the cutting.
“They (TxDOT) come on their own time schedule, which is not always that quick,” Johnson said.
The downside would not only be the cost, but making sure the road remains safe.
Right now there is no money in the budget for additional street repairs.
A little more than a million is included in the 2013-2014 proposed budget to fund the city’s streets program. Of that, $410,000 is derived from the Community Development Block Grant program at no expense to the city, but the bulk of the expenditures, $600,000, will come from the general fund.
The city is also expecting to fund some streets and water and sewer upgrades with Hurricane Ike recovery dollars. The city has received $14.6 million in Hurricane Ike Round 1 grant funding, and will receive another $10.3 million in Hurricane Ike Round 2 funding.
Another $1.5 million is anticipated this year from Economic Development Corporation sales tax revenue to fund infrastructure improvements in the city’s downtown area.
During recent budget workshops Port Arthur City Council members have indicated the state of the city’s streets demands more money for repairs. Those needs, Johnson has said, are competing with an aging infrastructure and the need to demolish unsafe buildings.
In a telephone conversation Friday, Deshotel said because of the backlash from cities, TxDOT appears to have made a decision for the program to be strictly voluntary.
“I think it has been resolved. The commission listed to the legislators, they listened to the mayors,” Deshotel said.
In a statement issued by TxDOT from Executive Director Phil Wilson, the department realizes most cities do no have adequate funds. For that reason, Wilson said he was asking that any city or county that ask to take over local portions of state highways would be compensated an amount equal to one year’s worth of maintenance costs for that roadway.
TxDOT is responsible for maintaining 80,000 miles of road across Texas.