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County to recoup $18.7 million in unspent highway construction money

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 by Michael Kanin

Travis County stands to free up $18.7 million in unspent highway construction funds that had been committed to two Texas Department of Transportation projects. Though the figure represents a boon, especially in a tough budgeting year, the county will have limited options in what it can do with the money.

 

“There are really not very many options that we’re aware of that the court could use those funds for,” said Travis County Assistant Budget Director Jessica Rio. “It was actually part of Proposition 2 back in 2001, which stated that they could be used for SH45 North and FM1826 right of way.”

 

The news came as the Travis County Commissioners Court received a final report on its costs for the SH45 North, SH130, and Loop 1 North projects. Though the state has refunded $5.2 million in unneeded funds for SH45, the county owes TxDOT roughly $2.6 million for cost overruns associated with the Loop 1 project.

 

County Judge Sam Biscoe made the obvious connection. “So we got $5 million-plus back on a Precinct 2 project, and we owe the state $2.3 million, plus some change on another Precinct 2 project,” he said. “Why can’t we take what we owe the state from what the state refunds us?”

 

Rio told him that would not be possible because the money was raised under different voter propositions and came from different bond years.

 

The bulk of the returnable 2001 bond money – roughly $18 million of the $18.7 million the county stands to get back — was also set for the SH45 project. However, it’s currently tied to improvements along FM1826. As such, the money can’t be released until TxDOT signs off. “The 1826 project is one that we have been speaking with TxDOT about for quite some time now,” said Travis County Executive for Transportation and Natural Resources Steve Manilla. “They have indicated to us that they have no plans to do that project within at least a 10-year horizon.”

 

Manilla added that the county has asked TxDOT to release the FM1826 money. “Once we get that release, we should be able to gain access to that $18 million,” he said.

 

Despite the fact that the court is limited in what it can do with the Proposition 2 money, Rio pointed out that the county could use it in at least one meaningful way. “One of the things that we’ve been waiting for the release to be able to investigate and pursue is easing debt with those funds, which is the option that I at least know is available to the court,” she said.

 

As for the $2.6 million that the county owes to TxDOT for Loop 1, Manilla suggested that the court look to issue certificates of obligation in 2012 to cover that debt. “We would look at other fund buckets, but we don’t think that will be up to this full amount,” he said.

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