New law could make trails cheaper for cities
June 17, 2017 at 9:12 p.m.
Updated June 18, 2017 at 6 a.m.
Susannah Porr said she chooses to bike through Victoria whenever she gets the chance.
It's great exercise and an eco-friendly way to get around town, she said. But biking can turn from fun to dangerous when trails end and Porr is forced to bike in busy streets with cars, she said.
"You simply can't ride a bike safely around the community," said Porr, 48, who works as the executive director for the National Association of Steel Pipe Distributors.
Fortunately for bicyclists such as Porr, it could be easier for the city of Victoria to build biking and walking trails after Texas passed a law to allow cities to use utility companies' land for trails. Under the new law, cities will face fewer legal barriers when entering into agreements with public utilities such as electric companies to use land for bike and walking paths.
"It eliminates some kinds of legal issues that prior to this bill made it difficult for cities to enter into agreements with utility companies," said John Kaminski, Victoria's assistant city manager.
Previously, finding and purchasing land for trails could cost cities millions of dollars. In 2013, lawmakers passed a law that allowed the city of Houston to use utility companies' rights of way and easements for trails. The law made it so the city's insurance policy would cover those using the paths.
This year, lawmakers voted to expand the law statewide, which could allow cities such as Victoria to construct trails on utility companies' land.
At this point, the city doesn't know whether utility companies' land would be suitable for trails, said Kaminski. The city didn't look into that because it wasn't financially feasible.
"In our trail plan, we never looked at those because I guess it wasn't really an option," said Kaminski.
The city is going to update its trail plan within the next year. At that point, the city could decide if it wants to explore options to partner with utility companies to build trails, Kaminski said.
But all that depends on whether the city has the money to do so. Recently, city sales tax revenue has declined, which means the city will be forced to tighten its budget next year. Kaminski said that could mean cutting back on projects - especially if they're not critical to city operations.
"When revenue is down, the competition is tougher," said Kaminski. "A street that needs to be rebuilt is generally going to have a higher priority than a new trail."