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Desperate to Keep Highway Money Flowing, Texas Foists Costs Onto Cities

Faced with an impending budget crisis, the Texas Department of Transportation has decided not to rethink its $5.2 billion plan for a third outerbelt through undeveloped grasslands around Houston. Instead, the agency has developed a proposal to basically shift a big part of its costs to the state's major cities.

The Houston Business Journal reports that the state government plans to shift responsibility for more than 100 miles of roads to cities with populations larger than 50,000, and urban communities are in an uproar. The additional maintenance will foist $165 million in new annual expenses onto Texas's major cities.

Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, told the Texas Tribune that “shifting $165 million of state costs onto cities would be a massive unfunded mandate that would require higher property taxes on homeowners and businesses."

The shift amounts to a backdoor tax to fund the big highways suburban developers want. Rather than asking drivers on those suburban highways to pick up the cost, through a gas tax or tolls, Texas will make city residents pick up the tab.

Jay Crossley of local smart growth advocacy group Houston Tomorrow said many state-controlled roads are already in terrible condition thanks to TxDOT's habit of prioritizing new road construction over maintenance.

"TxDOT is saying, 'We need our crack,'" said Crossley. "They're basically handing over some broken local roads and saying 'Now it's your problem.'"

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