TxDOT hits breaks on 2 controversial money saving ideas - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

TxDOT hits breaks on 2 controversial money saving ideas

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TxDOT hits the brakes on two controversial ideas, converting oil patch highways to gravel and giving state roads back to cities, Thursday after a contentious hearing in Austin.

With a room full of concerned drivers as well as several frustrated state lawmakers and state highway commissioners, Thursday, were on the defensive.

"If this was an unfunded mandate, it would be the mother of unfunded mandates," said State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson. (R ) Waco.

The comments had commissioners hitting the breaks on two controversial ideas to save the agency millions of dollars.

One of the ideas would give the maintenance responsibilities of several state roadways back to cities.

The other plan converts damaged oil patch roads in West and South Texas into what engineers describe as high end unpaved roads.

"We are listening, today this was the beginning of a longer process and it is unfortunate that some have seen it as something different than that," said TxDOT Chief Engineer John Barton.

In Austin, the Capitol of Texas Highway and Lamar Blvd are among the roads that could be turned over to the city. The process has been done before but usually based on mutual agreements. Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell and other Texas mayors worry it could be a budget buster if the state unloads all of its unwanted roads on them.

"But if all of the roadways that they would want to off load to us, would cost us $10 to $12 million addition in our budget (each year) and we just don't the funds to do that. We're talking about maintenance here we don't have the money to do that," said Mayor Leffingwell.

Also causing a dust up was the idea of converting 83 miles of damaged oil patch highways into unpaved roads. Engineers say it is the best, quick fix option available and the roads could be repaved later after the oil boom plays out.

"This conversion is costing us less than $10,000 per mile and the ongoing maintenance is going to be relatively low," explained Barton.

A few sections have already been changed over, but residents, like Obe Ailert from LaSalle County, are not convinced it's a good idea.

"If you've ever traveled on a gravel road in the midst of 18 wheelers, there's nothing safe about it," said Ailert.

Even state lawmaker Joe Pickett was critical of the TxDOT plans.

"And I think it's time for TxDOT to say we made a mistake," said the El Paso Democrat.

Pickett is concern all the work during the recent session to get public approval for TxDOT to tap into the rainy day fund could be jeopardized.

"I don't want to see this become a publicity nightmare and hurt the chances of November 2014," said Rep. Pickett.

While those ideas are being tweaked, the commissioners are moving forward with setting up a grant program to help oil communities patch up their roads. Money is limited and the program will require the locals to put up some matching funds.

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