Right now, securing adequate funding for maintaining and expanding our roads in the Texas Panhandle is a priority for many of our elected officials. Pronews 7??s David Grasso-Ortega spoke to a congressman, a state representative, and a mayor about the politics that affect our area??s ability to fund our roads.
Maintaining our transportation infrastructure in Texas requires cooperation and cost sharing between federal, state, and local authorities. As budgets have become tighter, there have been some programs that have been pitched in the past year by Tx-Dot as a way for them to reduce their expenses.
A significant portion of Tc-Dot??s budget comes from the federal government, which has its own problems because the gas tax hasn??t been raised since 1993. Put simply, the Federal highway trust is going broke, but for now temporary funding measures are keeping money flowing to the state.
??We have for many years paid for roads and bridges with the gas tax,?? said Congressman Mac Thornberry. ??There are fewer dollars than was expected because cars are more efficient and because people are driving less, so there??s less money.??
Last year Tx-Dot pitched a program called the ??turnback program.?? They sought to save some money by as the name of the program suggests, by turning back roads to the cities. When the program was introduced, it caused a stir among many local governments, including Amarillo.
??It was interpreted as being a mandate, an involuntary mandate on local municipalities to receive or take back some of these roadways, and the cost of maintenance would have not been budgeted at the time,?? said State Representative Four Price.
Tx-DOT said that ??Participation in the program is voluntary, allowing local governments the ability to assume responsibility for ownership of these roadways. As of today, the City of Amarillo has not taken up TxDOT??s Turnback offer.??
Amarillo Mayor Paul Harpole said that he declined to participate in the ??turnback program?? because it would have created more costs for the city as an unfunded mandate.
??We pay gas tax and we pay other funds to the state to get this maintenance, and if they??re going to cut that maintenance and turn it back to the city, then they need to provide us with funding to take care of that, or our citizens are basically taxed twice,?? said Harpole.
Representative Price told Pronews 7 that while the controversy over the ??turnback program?? is likely in the past, that issues with transportation funding in Texas are far from over. He told us that transportation funding is at the top of the legislative agenda for next year??s session, and that they??re looking at practical solutions to ensure there??s sustainable funding that doesn??t leave the cities bearing the entire burden.
??There??s such great need across the state that we will need to find ways to work together to achieve sensible financing and sustainable financing so that we have some predictability in the future, said Representative Price. ??Texas continues to be successful and attracts more folks to the state, that need and that demand will only increase.??
Representative Price added that they??ll be looking at hopefully adding revenue streams specifically targeted at maintaining and expanding roads, and that hopefully all levels of government can cooperate successfully in the future and avoid the pitfalls that were associated with the ??turnback program.??