TML, TEMPO, and TxDOT Agreement: Turnback Program is Voluntary
On April 4, 2014, the League and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) agreed in writing that TxDOT’s “Turnback Program” was to proceed entirely on a voluntary basis. Cities first became aware of the program when a letter was sent to larger cities informing them that TxDOT intended to consider transferring all maintenance of certain non-controlled-access state highways to those cities.
What was originally perceived as a unilateral, unfunded mandate on those cities has become a cooperative effort between TML, the Association of Texas Metropolitan Planning Organizations (TEMPO), and TxDOT to address the state’s highway funding needs. A select committee of city officials – appointed by Texas Municipal League President Jungus Jordan – met with TxDOT officials on January 6. At that meeting, TxDOT gave assurances that the program is meant to be voluntary.
Later negotiations resulted in a written memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the three organizations. The MOU contains, among others, the following key provisions:
- Written confirmation of the program’s voluntary nature.
- The program is available to any city within the boundaries of a metropolitan planning organization (MPO).
- The parties will work together in good faith to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of the program.
- TxDOT incentives for the program will be capped at a statewide total of $100 million and will be offered on a first come/first served basis.
- The MOU is subject to review every two years for adjustments according to real-world experiences.
- TxDOT will ensure that a candidate highway is in satisfactory condition before a transfer occurs, and no highway will be turned back unless the city agrees that it is in satisfactory condition.
- TxDOT’s future maintenance savings will be used by TxDOT on eligible mobility, safety, and preservation projects within the same city that accepts the responsibilities for a turned back road.
- TxDOT will not use a city’s refusal to accept a turned back highway as justification to reduce spending in the city or TxDOT district in which the city is located.
The main point of the agreement is confirmation of the voluntary nature of the program—no city will be forced to take over a state highway unless the city agrees it should happen. The next step procedurally is for TML to produce a legislative position related to possible local-option funding sources that will assist cities in maintaining “turned back” highways in their city, as well as with general transportation needs. That position will be developed over the coming months through the TML legislative policy development process.
The complete MOU between TML, TxDOT, and TEMPO can be viewed here: https://www.tml.org/p/TurnbackMOU.TxDOT.TML.TEMPO.pdf.