Denton officials to air concerns at meeting in Austin set for today
Texas Department of Transportation officials are looking at offloading some of the agency’s roads and maintenance costs to the cities where the roads are located.
Some Denton city leaders are expected to voice their concerns about the plan at a meeting in Austin today.
The Turn Back Program is a cooperative program between TxDOT and local governments that state officials say could expand the use of its limited resources for maintaining the state highway system.
The program would free up additional maintenance funding, allowing TxDOT to invest in other high-traffic roadways in the area.
The objective of the Turn Back Program is to transfer ownership of some state-owned roads — used primarily for local traffic purposes — to local governments. This includes roads that have lower average daily traffic or roads that benefit local governments socially and economically, according to an e-mailed statement from TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross.
For Denton, that means the maintenance of about 25 more miles of roads would become the city’s responsibility.
The program ensures local control and allows local governments to make decisions that better protect property values and respond to the needs of residents and businesses, Cross said.
For example, through a transfer, a local government would have control of traffic flow, parking, driveway access, speed limits, road closures and maintenance schedules, he said.
At this point, this is a discussion — nothing has been decided, Cross said.
In letters to city and county leaders, TxDOT officials said they want to work with communities to come to a logical solution that benefits everyone who uses the state’s transportation system.
John Polster, transportation consultant for Denton County, said the program is a good idea so long as it remains voluntary.
Polster noted that under the program, if a municipality takes back a road, TxDOT will work with the local officials and negotiate what the maintenance cost would be on the project for a year.
“They would not hand back a project to the local [leaders] unless the roadway was in good condition, and you wouldn’t have to use your maintenance money to maintain the road for the first year,” he said.
Polster said that TxDOT officials typically wait for local governments to come to them and they negotiate a charge.
“It has the potential to be a good program for the state,” he said. “A lot of local governments can take those streets and make them more local streets; angled parking, signage, more flexibility to use those roads as a local street.”
Denton Mayor Pro Tem Pete Kamp and City Manager George Campbell left Wednesday afternoon in order to speak to the transportation commission in Austin this morning.
Because the Texas Legislature did not fund transportation as it should have in the last legislative session, TxDOT needs to figure out how to pay for roads and highways, Kamp said.
“I believe this is a conversation we need to have,” she said.
Kamp also serves as the chairwoman of the Regional Transportation Council, a planning body of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
The initial proposal is a cookie-cutter solution that doesn’t take into account the impact it will have on Texas cities, she said.
For Denton, TxDOT has proposed the city’s taxpayers assume the maintenance for large portions of Loop 288, U.S. Highway 377 and several farm-to-market roads.
What that will cost is unclear, Kamp said.
“We’re still trying to put some numbers together,” she said.
City officials have roughly estimated at least $300,000 per year to maintain those roads, which would take another half-cent per $100 valuation in property tax to cover.
In addition, not all the roads have been built to their designed capacity. That may take at least another $1.2 million, she said.
Kamp said she thought there might be room for some discussion — the city may be willing to take Locust and Elm streets, or U.S. Highway 77 — but to take on everything on the map was “ludicrous,” she said.
Staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolffe contributed to this report.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.