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County votes to apply for pass-through funding for three road projects

Monday, February 28, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Travis County officials will apply for roughly $28 million in pass-through financing funds from the Texas Department of Transportation. As part of the deal, the county would pay for all of the soft costs associated with the projects, but could be eligible for reimbursement on the entire amount that it spends on construction fees.


Thanks to current trends, however, it seems as though the county will see far less than that. According to Travis Transportation and Natural Resources County Executive Steve Manilla, local governments across Texas have offered to chip in for a portion of those previously reimbursable funds in order to make their bids more attractive. As a result, Travis County will offer to forgo as much as $10.8 million in costs than it otherwise would collect from TxDOT.


That was enough to make Pct. 2 Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt vote against this round of pass through applications. “They’re asking too much,” she said. “They’re asking us to beg them to pick up their responsibility.”


Eckhardt has been concerned for a while about the implications of this sort of funding, which finds local governments footing the bill for work on state roads. Still, she has voted in the past to allow Travis officials to make the applications. After the hearing, she elaborated on why she voted against this round of submittals.


“It’s not just the camel’s nose now,” she told In Fact Daily. “You have the camel’s nose and the first hump – it won’t be long now before we’ve got the whole camel (under the tent).”


Pct. 4 Commissioner Margaret Gomez joined Eckhardt in opposition to this set of pass through projects but did not comment.


Pct. 1 Commissioner Ron Davis, Pct. 3 Commissioner Karen Huber, and County Judge Sam Biscoe all voted to move ahead with the applications. Manilla will now ask the state for funds to widen FM1626 from west of Brodie Lane to FM2304, widen and realign FM973 from south of Braker Lane to US 290 East, and widen FM969 from FM3177 to Hunters Bend Road.


Together, these projects will cost a total of over $55 million. Should they all be accepted – a fairly remote possibility – the county would be on the hook for nearly $27 million. Travis officials have said that they could look to a possible November bond election to pay for the county’s share of the projects.


After the hearing, Manilla told In Fact Daily that he didn’t think that the negative votes from Eckhardt and Gomez would effect the applications. “We have a majority,” he said. “They had good reason for having a mixed result there, I think, and in some ways it’s good that they’re showing TxDOT that they’re not happy with this.”

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