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Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership
H-GAC Transportation Policy Council
by Jim Guidry
Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Houston-Galveston Area Council Transportation Policy Council on Friday held a spirited discussion of a plan by the Texas Department of Transportation to abandon maintenance of 1,897 miles of state highways in urban areas as a cost-cutting measure and to shift those costs to the cities and counties.  Listen (27:06)

The plan was presented in a letter from TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson to county judges and mayors of cities with a population of more than 50,000, as well as select smaller cities adjoining or surrounded by those larger cities. 
Sample Letter

“The turnback program is envisioned as a cooperative venture between TxDOT and local jurisdictions to increase local control,” Wilson wrote.  “The roads under consideration are state-owned, but serve primarily local traffic.”

County Judge Ed Emmett, who chairs the TPC, called Marc Williams of TxDOT to the podium, to put the issue in context.

“What the commission asked staff to do was to go forward with communicating to the local officials in those affected communities about those roadways and to have a conversation and discussion with them on any opportunity that would exist to potentially turn those facilities over, turn them back, to the local communities,” Williams said.  “That particular letter that went out on August 13 touched a bit of nerve.  The department may not have explained the program as effectively as we needed to.”

Fort Bend County Commissioner James Patterson noted that Fort Bend County Judge Robert Hebert received the letter; and he called it “self explanatory and insulting” in an email to the commissioners court.

State Representative Allen Fletcher, who serves as an ex-officio member of the TPC, said the TxDOT plan is not imminent.

“I spoke with Phil Wilson for about an hour on the phone,” Fletcher said.  “He said to me that this is totally and completely still in the planning stages, obviously.”

Harris County Engineer Art Storey was not appeased.

“I think at the very best it was a disingenuous letter with an implied threat and the executive director needs to learn to say what he means,” Storey said.  “If he worked for me, I’d send him for remedial training in letter writing and diction and grammar and all those things.  It’s a terrible letter!”

Judge Emmett said he understands the concept in Wilson’s plan, using the example of Westheimer Road in Houston as a candidate for the transfer from the state to the city.

“This is a farm to market road?” Emmet asked. “O.K., if the Galleria is the market, where is the farm?”

Gulf Coast Rail District Chair Bert Keller said Westheimer has always been a state highway.

“Anybody that’s grown up in Houston since 1960 knows that Westheimer was not the city,” Keller said.  “I think there’s a lot of psychological posturing on when you say ‘return it to the city’ meaning this was yours to start with.”

Houston Public Works Director Daniel W. Krueger said a transfer of state roads to city maintenance would have a major impact on the cities.

“That’s a little more than evolutionary,” he said.  “It’s pretty significant.”

“I don’t think we have an action to take,” Judge Emmett said, concluding the discussion with an advisory to TxDOT representatives in the room.  “I suspect you may have more visitors to the commission meeting on the 29th than normal.”

The TPC voted unanimously to accept the recommendations of a working group of staff and board members regarding Transportation Development Credits. Listen (26:30)

“What the committee did was try to wrestle with the key questions that you brought at the last policy council discussion,” explained Alan Clark of H-GAC staff.  “The key question that you brought to us is what should be the priorities for the uses of credits?”

The committee recommendation was to submit its work to the Transportation Advisory Council for review before it is returned to the TDC.

Bay Area Houston Transportation Partnership President Barbara Koslov appeared before the TDC to support inclusion of the Greater 288 Partnership Study on the Northern Brazoria County/ Pearland Planning Initiative in the Regional Transportation Plan. Listen (1:25)

All action items on the agenda were approved unanimously. Attendance Report  Agenda
Note: Agenda includes links to staff reports and additional audio excerpts.

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