DALLAS – Mike Rawlings of Dallas is the latest big-city Texas mayor to criticize a proposal by Texas Department of Transportation to turn over maintenance of state highways in urban areas.

TxDOT said in mid-August that it could save $165 million a year by turning over the upkeep costs for 1,897 of roads in urban counties and cities. The Texas Transportation Commission will hear the proposal Aug. 29, but no action is expected.

The proposal includes 59 Texas cities with a population of more than 50,000.

The plan is unfair to cities and counties as well as taxpayers in urban areas, Rawlings said in an Aug. 23 letter to Phil Wilson, executive director of TxDOT.

State roads are maintained with revenue from federal and state gasoline and other highway taxes, Rawlings said, while cities are heavily reliant on property and sales tax revenues for street maintenance.

“Transferring maintenance of urban state highways to local governments, while state and federal governments keep the revenue that is paid to fund that maintenance, is unfair, and leans heavily toward double taxation,” Rawlings said.

Taxpayers and motorists won’t see any savings from the turnback proposal, he said.

“Taxpayers would not pay less,” Rawlings said in the letter to TxDOT. “Their money would simply be spent at a different level of government.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called TxDOT’s proposal “an ill-timed and unfunded mandate that may force us to raise local taxes.”

The problem is a lack of adequate funding for TxDOT from the Legislature, Price said.

Wilson said the turnback would be a voluntary program.

“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 said.

The transfer would allow local governments to better control the transportation infrastructure in their jurisdictions, Wilson said.

The state would pay the first year of maintenance costs for cities and counties participating in the voluntary program, Wilson said. This would benefit the local governments, he said, because TxDOT would make sure the roadways are in good shape before the transfer.

“Since TxDOT is committed to handing back these local highways in good condition, it is likely these additional maintenance funds could provide sufficient revenues for ongoing maintenance for several years or be applied to other road projects in the city or county,” he said.

Many of the 600 segments to be included in the turnback program were built as farm-to-market roads but now serve as city arterial streets, he said.

TxDOT’s responsibility is to provide highways that connect communities, Wilson said, while cities and counties are responsible for local access and mobility.

The proposal grew out of a requirement inserted by the Legislature into the bill that funds TxDOT’s for the next two years that the department “identify and implement savings” totaling $100 million, Wilson said. The potential savings of $165 million from the road turnback represent 2% of TxDOT’s annual budget.

The turnback proposal is a bad idea by TxDOT that would result in higher property taxes, said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League.

“It’s just the latest gimmick by state officials to avoid responsibility for providing an adequate highway system for Texans,” Sandlin said. “These additional maintenance costs for cities would come on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars that TxDOT is already extorting from cities and counties by demanding so-called ‘local participation’ on all new state highway construction projects.”

Cities contributed more than $112 million in cash and much more in right-of-way donations and in-kind services to state highway construction in 2012, Sandlin said.

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