With improvements planned for U.S. Highway 75 in the near future, transportation officials are asking local municipalities to contribute to future work to the highway and other road projects. In a funding workshop this week, officials with the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization said the chances of local road projects receiving state funding without local contributions are very small.
“I know Sherman has had quite a few of these discussions too and we’ve actually had one of those at the Commissioners Court meeting at the Grayson County Courthouse,” SDMPO Executive Director Clay Barnett said.
Barnett said local officials are still working out ways to fund the local match needed to acquire state funding for a slate of proposed improvements to Hwy. 75. The $162 million project would include the closure of “the gap” — the four-mile stretch of the road that is not up to interstate standards — and improvements to the highway’s intersection with State Highway 82.
In order to help fund the project, Barnett said Sherman has committed about $8 million to the project, with Grayson County Commissioners considering an additional $5 million.
With Wednesday’s workshop, Barnett said he wanted to get across that it would take funding by the cities in Grayson County in order to get assistance from the Texas Department of Transportation. This approach is not something unique to the area, he said.
“There has been this myth that Grayson County is the only one looking at this,” Barnett said, holding up a chart of local match funding across the state. “For those of you who can’t read this, it is $6.5 billion dollars that local communities are putting into TxDOT over the next 10 years. So the idea that Grayson County is the only county or local entity that is looking into investing in our state roads or partnering with the state on the state roads is woefully incorrect.”
The meeting was attended by representatives of many Grayson communities, other local leaders, and representatives for the TxDOT. Noel Paramanantham, Paris District engineer for TxDOT, said the discussions come as new criteria for weighing project funding by TxDOT is being considered by the legislature.
House Bill 20 would put in a number of criteria, metrics and requirements for projects to be funded through TxDOT.
“They said safety is the No. 1 issue (and) congestion management is another one,” Paramanantham said. “But a critical component of that was local participation, local leverage.”
Paramanantham added that TxDOT will receive about $35 billion over the next decade, but is expected to see a need for $110 billion in road repair projects. Paramanantham said the majority of TxDOT’s funding comes from the gas tax, which was set in the 1990s. Of the 38.4 cents of tax per gallon, only 20 cents makes its way directly back to the state.
In an effort to bring additional funding to road projects, Paramanantham said legislators and voters have passed several initiatives in recent years, including an allocation of a portion of the sales tax, motor vehicle sales tax and oil and gas revenues. However, this is expected to bring the funding up to only about $70 billion over the next 10 years, he said.
This gap in funding could hit smaller areas harder as they will be competing with large metro areas for a limited pool of funds, Barnett said.
“FM 120, FM 902 are never going to compete, traffic-wise, with the traffic needs of the rest of the state,” Barnett said.
Locally, he said his budget for repair and maintenance projects is about $40 million each year spread across nine counties and thousands of miles of road.
“What I am trying to get at is the new rules to get funding involve local participation,” Barnett said. “I think we have to have a unified approach.”
Barnett asked whether the metrics and criteria would favor a number of bypass projects that the county is considering. Paramanantham said they would be relatively low under these standards.
Even with the additional funding, Barnett said it did not leave local transportation officials in a comfortable place. While transportation is expected to get sales tax funding in the future, he said it would be as simple as an act of the legislature to reverse this.
“If you look at the hot topics right now, it is schools — public schools — and care for the mentally challenged,” Barnett said. “They are not talking about roads and if the public is not talking about roads, and they (legislators) lose sight of that, they could decide to divert that sales tax to schools or indigent care.”