December 11, 2007
Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) has sent a critical letter to theTexas Department of Transportation, asking why the department was so quick in announcing it would be necessary to pull funding for various transportation projects across the state.
Watson distributed the letter toExecutive Director Amadeo Saenz, dated Dec. 10, to the members of theCapital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board. In the letter, Watson cites the passage, in October, of the region’s shorter-termTransportation Improvement Plan (TIP). If TxDOT was in such dire straits, why wasn’t it straightforward during that planning process? Watson asks in his letter.
“It was the understanding of the CAMPO board that, in addition to the funding acquired by theCentral Texas Regional Mobility Authority (CTRMA), the Department had committed to substantial funding by means of various categories through the term of the TIP,” Watson wrote in his letter. “This commitment was stated in several public meetings, as well as the October meeting. It was understood to be in the range of $500 to $700 million, and it was a critical and determinative factor in the CAMPO’s board decision to approve the Department’s requested projects.”
Watson expressed concern – and it’s probably justified – that TxDOT would retreat from its earlier commitment to support those projects in the October TIP. In his letter, Watson asks 11 questions, including how TxDOT’s funding cuts will hit CAMPO; what share of the funding cut Central Texas will have to bear; what are the specific causes of the shortfall; and how state cuts will impact the Central Texas region.
Other questions include whether state cuts will impact the district maintenance budgets and whether that’s related to new capacity; whether a statewide policy will be put in place to address additional roads; the status of theTexas Mobility Fund and what has happened to CAMPO’s allocation of that fund; which of the 80 new capacity projects approved by TxDOT in June might be impacted under funding; what the magnitude of future cuts might be – and what that impact might be – on long-term construction.
Watson has said he would have a CAMPO workshop as soon as January to consider the impact of the state cuts on the local region. CAMPO likely will have to bear some portion of a possible $1 billion in cuts. TheTexas Transportation Commission likely will make that decision in either December or January, according to earlier interviews with TxDOT.
The Texas Transportation Commission will meet again on December 18. SpokesmanRandall Dillard said the agency received Watson’s letter on Monday.
“We received Sen. Watson’s letter yesterday. It includes 11 questions about transportation funding which are critically important to Austin area and the state,” Dillard said on Tuesday. “We are working on a written response to the Senator. We continue to work with Sen. Watson and CAMPO to maximize limited resources to reduce congestion and enhance safety in the Austin area, and to provide a transportation system that enhances the quality of life for all citizens in the region.”
Dillard would not elaborate on any possible answers to Watson’s questions.
In his letter, Watson wrote it was important that CAMPO understand the size and severity of the cuts as soon as possible. That is doubly true given the commitments made to local communities made in the TIP passed in October, Watson wrote. Watson asked that his questions be answered in a timely manner so Central Texas could begin its planning.
CAMPO’s Transportation Policy Board meets again on Jan 14. Monday’s CAMPO meeting was cancelled.