December 9, 2007
Texas Department of Transportation
125 E. 11th St.
Recent reports by various media sources have addressed the proposed funding cutbacks by the Texas Department of Transportation to the state’s transportation budget. I am seeking specific clarification from you on a number of points of concern.
As you are aware, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) finalized the amendment process and voted on its Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) on October 8th of this year, and included in the TIP several roadway improvements that were highlighted on the Department’s own minute order of the June 2007 meeting. In a responsible effort to address our region’s mobility and congestion issues, the CAMPO Board undertook a detailed, lengthy, and frequently difficult process. As part of that effort, we looked for appropriate sources of money to construct improvements, including those improvements recommended and put forward by your agency. Money from the state was sought, and we sought guidance from the Department regarding accessing funding. We were advised and instructed to begin immediate programming and development of these added capacity improvements, with the indication that if we failed to move forward at this time, the department would either do so unilaterally or move funding to another area of the state.
It was the understanding of the CAMPO Board that, in addition to the funding acquired by the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), the Department had committed to substantial funding by means of various categories throughout the term of the TIP. This commitment was stated in several public meetings, as well as at the October meeting. It was understood to be in the range of $500 million to $700 million, and it was a critical and determinative factor in the CAMPO Board’s decision to approve the Department’s requested projects.
I am becoming increasingly concerned that now, with the approval of these projects in hand, the Department may retreat from these earlier commitments. Given this possibility, the difficulty obtaining consistent information, and your well-publicized funding reduction plans, I am respectfully asking the following questions on behalf of the CAMPO Board and the member cities, counties, and agencies – as well as the citizens of Central Texas, who have supported the highway improvements that the Department has requested based upon a belief that the Department would live up to its commitments and that the improvements would indeed improve mobility in Central Texas:
1) Have CAMPO allocations been recommended for reduction? If so, has the Commission taken action yet? If not, what CAMPO allocations are being considered for reductions?
2) In what specific budgets (and line items) were CAMPO dollars allocated? In other words, if people want to review previous budgets, where would they find these allocations?
3) What specifically has changed in the mere two months since the Department committed to providing $500 million to $700 million to fund the highway improvements it requested? To what degree is this money being considered to be reduced?
4) It is my understanding that this region’s pro-rata share of statewide funding for urban areas is around 6 percent to 7 percent. If this is so, then a cutback of $500 million to $700 million in Central Texas would translate to several billion in reductions state-wide in these funding areas alone. Is that correct? What is the total level of reductions state-wide for these types of highway improvements?
5) What are the specific causes for this new shortfall, and why have they become apparent only in the two months since the Department’s TIP amendment requests were approved? For the Austin region and state-wide, how much is attributable to state budget reductions, and how much to federal rescissions?
6) By how much were the budgets for right-of-way and professional services reduced on both the state and district levels?
7) How have the state-wide and district maintenance budgets changed? Have the budgets increased due to decreases in funding for “new capacity” projects? If so, why didn’t prior maintenance budgets accurately reflect this need for increased funding?
8) Has there been a formal, state-wide policy decision not to fund projects providing new or additional road capacity? Has there been any such decision affecting only such projects in the Austin District?
9) What is the status of the Texas Mobility Fund, and what has happened to the CAMPO allocation from it?
10) In June, more than 80 new capacity projects were released for review and acceptance by MPOs throughout the state. Which of these projects will be affected by funding reductions, and what are those effects? Which of these projects are still being funded?
11) What will be the magnitude of future cuts, if any, and from where will those cuts come if we have now eliminated all new capacity projects?
It is essential that the CAMPO Board be given as much information as possible about the size and severity of these cuts, and the effect they will have in this region. That is doubly true given the commitments made by the department just two months ago – commitments that played a fundamental role in the CAMPO Board’s decision to approve the Department’s requested TIP amendments. The Board was especially confident in the strength of these commitments, given that they covered projects the Commission itself had set out as priorities only a few short months before the vote.
On behalf of all of those who worked so diligently to bring a balanced, reasonable plan to the citizens of Central Texas, I respectfully request that the above questions be addressed in a timely manner.
I am assuming you share the same dedication to public service as the citizen volunteers and public officials that gave so much of their time and commitment to the difficult process that your requests entailed. These valued citizens succeeded in bringing forward a plan that met the exacting standards of fairness and transparency, which the people of Central Texas rightfully demand. Such fairness and transparency clearly must extend into the implementation of this plan, as well as the passage of it, and I look forward to your open, forthright, and verifiable answers to these important questions.