TxDOT’s “Turnback” Proposal May Be Voluntary?
As reported in previous editions of the 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.”
In an August 27 article in the San Antonio Express-News, TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson wrote that the “turnback” proposal would be voluntary in nature: “I propose a voluntary participation program that initially would allow cities and counties to ask to assume the responsibility for and ownership of non-freeway roadways within their jurisdiction that are currently designated as state highways.” Wilson further stated that a city that takes control of one of these highways would be compensated for the equivalent of one year’s worth of maintenance costs for the roadway, and any revenue saved by TxDOT as a result of turning the road over to the city would be used to address mobility and safety challenges within that same city.
Prior to this article indicating that the program would be voluntary, numerous city officials and state legislators voiced concerns over a mandatory “turnback” program. Texas House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio wrote a letter to the Texas Transportation Commission arguing that “local entities and TxDOT need to clearly agree on the terms of such a ‘turn back’ process.”
The Texas Transportation Commission conducted a hearing on the proposal on August 29. Mayors and other city leaders, as well as state legislators, expressed grave concerns with any program mandating that cities take over maintenance of non-freeway state roadways. One legislator, Representative Doc Anderson of Waco, called a mandatory "turnback" program the “mother of all unfunded mandates.”
TML President John Monaco, Mayor of the City of Mesquite, testified on behalf of the League at the hearing. Mayor Monaco pointed out that in almost every other state in the nation, “large amounts of state aid flow to cities to help them pay for basic services. Texas is unique – cities get virtually no state funding. In return, cities are left alone to provide essential services like police, fire, streets, and parks. That’s a better system than in most states, Mayor Monaco said, because cities aren’t constantly begging for state money. But it can only work in the absence of costly unfunded mandates like this proposal represents. If this $165 million shift is allowed to occur, Texas will be starting down a very dark and treacherous course of an underfunded state government turning to cities to pay for state services.”
Video of the August 29 TxDOT hearing, when available, can be accessed from the following website: http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/administration/commission/2013-meetings.html.
City officials concerned with the impact of the proposed “turnback” program should strongly consider writing a letter to the members of the Texas Transportation Commission. Contact information for the commissioners can be found on TxDOT’s website at: http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/administration/commission/contact.html.