The Texas Transportation Commission, taking its cue from state leaders, today decided to borrow another $1.5 billion that would be paid back by future gas taxes.
That borrowing authority, granted on a unanimous vote of the five-member commission in a specially called meeting this morning, will allow TxDOT to issue more than $4 billion in contracts this year. At least $1.1 billion of that would be for maintenance projects. But the remainder, almost $3 billion, would allow much greater spending to expand the state road system than in the fiscal year now ending, a year when TxDOT had to shelve many road projects.
That 2008 crunch directly affected the Austin area, where local leaders had approved a $1.45 billion plan to build five more toll roads based on a promise of several hundred million dollars from TxDOT. Politicians here, particularly state Sen. Kirk Watson, were incensed when TxDOT reneged on that promise only a few weeks after a tough October 2007 vote on the toll roads.
TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz could not say with certainty today whether the move to issue the $1.5 billion in gas tax bonds will restore all of that funding to Austin.
“It could help Austin,” Saenz said. “We want to make sure we get projects that are ready to go in 2009.”
The Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority will be building the first of those five projects, an expansion of U.S. 290 from Northeast Austin to Manor that would include toll express lanes and improved frontage roads. However, officials with the authority this week indicated that environmental and engineering work likely will not be ready in time for construction to begin until late 2009. That would be beyond the state’s fiscal 2009 year, which begins Monday.
Saenz indicated that some of the $1.5 billion would be spent on engineering and right of way purchases, readying projects in anticipation of even more borrowing authority to come. TxDOT could borrow an additional $1.4 billion against the gas tax in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Austin’s projects could see some of that engineering money, or some of the $1.4 billion if TxDOT follows through and takes on that debt as well.
And if the Legislature passes additional legislation next year, the agency could borrow up to $5 billion more that voters approved under the Proposition 12 constitutional amendment in November. Those bonds would be paid back by general state revenue, not gas taxes.
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