TxDOT proposes giving back 38 miles of state roadway to Victoria

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Aug. 24, 2013 at 3:24 a.m.

A statewide plan to save millions could end up passing the buck to Victoria taxpayers.

Texas Department of Transportation's proposal to hand over almost 1,900 miles of state-owned roads to city and county governments under the turnback program is expected to save the department $165 million annually.

However, by giving control of urban state roads to local governments, Victoria - and other cities with populations larger than 50,000 - would have to absorb the cost.

County Judge Don Pozzi said he was opposed to the program and planned to speak at the Texas Transportation Commission meeting Thursday in Austin.

"It is, in my opinion, still questionable as to whether or not this is voluntary or if they can force this upon the cities and counties," he said.

He expects the county to start calculating a cost analysis after Monday's commissioners court meeting for the 14 miles of roadway it could absorb.

The city plans to release its cost analysis at Tuesday's council meeting of the 24 miles it could be given.

In the Yoakum District, Victoria County is the only "small-urban" area impacted by the program, said Mark Cross, a media relations officer for TxDOT.

The starting point for discussions with Victoria city and county officials includes 38 miles of roadway.

He said the program would "free up" maintenance funding, allowing TxDOT to invest in other high-traffic roadways in the area.

The objective is to transfer ownership of state-owned roads - used primarily for local traffic purposes - to local governments. Westheimer Road in Houston and Lamar Boulevard in Austin are also under consideration.

Mayor Paul Polasek called the proposal an unfunded mandate.

"It has the potential to cost the city more money. That's my concern," he said. "There's a better word than potential - it would cost the city more money."

If the program is approved, Victoria taxpayers could be responsible for maintaining Navarro Street, Salem Road, Houston Highway and Main Street within Zac Lentz Parkway, Polasek said.

"They're built to a high-traffic count standard, which makes them even more expensive," Polasek said. "If we had to inherit that expense, it could pose a problem for us. It would be a financial burden."

The Texas Municipal League is opposed to TxDOT's plan.

Polasek said the city has not taken a definitive stance but will likely join the Texas Municipal League and other cities to oppose the program.

From TxDOT's standpoint, Cross said the program would give local governments decision-making power that "better protect property values and respond to the needs of local residents and businesses."

Through a transfer, a local government would have total control of traffic flow, parking, driveway access, speed limits, road closures and maintenance schedules, he said.

Although unaffected by the program, Calhoun County Judge Michael Pfeifer sees it differently.

"They built the highways - it's theirs, and now they don't want to fund them anymore," he said. "To turn all that over to the cities and counties for maintenance, that's just crazy. Right now, I would think counties and cities would say, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'"

As county judge in Victoria, Pozzi is hopeful the meeting in Austin will shed some light on the program.

"Victoria County has, for many years, an outstanding working relationship with TxDOT that has been very beneficial to our citizens," Pozzi said. "They have had our full cooperation, and certainly, we will continue to work with them on anything we can, including the discussion of this issue. However, this is not something - at least at this time and with the information I have - that I am able to support."



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