Last December, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) took the unprecedented step of stopping the state’s transportation enhancements program and, in so doing, abruptly rejected more than 300 pending grant requests totaling $266 million.
SAFETEA-LU, the nation’s surface transportation law, in effect from2005 through FY2009, mandates that a percentage of federal transportation funding to states go to transportation enhancement projects. This has been a powerful source of support for the restoration and continued use of historic places. For 15 years, hundreds of communities have used transportation enhancement funds for downtown streetscape improvements, visitor centers, hike and bike trails, and diverse historic preservation projects. In Texas more than $60 million has gone to preservation projects, including courthouses, bridges, rail depots, and the state’s acclaimed Heritage Trails program.
TXDoT’s move came after the Federal Highway Administration reduced the amount of transportation funding allocated to all the states, citing increasing costs of running the Iraq War and recovery from Hurricane Katrina. While other states have responded by cutting back proportionally on their transportation enhancements programs, Texas is the only state to completely scrap it, diverting its federal funding to other projects. “That’s obviously a very bad precedent, ”National Trust president RichardMoe has written. “For one thing, we think it seriously undermines the congressional intent of this program.”
Notably, TXDoT made this decision without any input from state or local elected officials. And now it will take a move from Governor Rick Perry or the state legislature to set things right. A senate resolution calling for TXDoT to restore funding for the transportation enhancements program has already been introduced.
The National Trust and its statewide partner Preservation Texas have been raising the alarm in Texas and beyond. Members and supporters of these organizations are being urged to send a postcard to Governor Perry so he can get the message that funding for transportation enhancements should be protected.
At a recent hearing of the Texas Transportation Committee (March 22), several local governments and MPOs (Metropolitan Planning Organizations) urged TXDoT to let them make decisions about transportation enhancement funding at their own local levels. That could restore some funding, but it would mean that the issue would have to be fought out in dozens of skirmishes rather than addressed in a broad and unified way.
It’s obvious why this issue is crucial in Texas, but the rest of the country needs to take notice as well…for if this is perceived by other states as a good idea, then preservation’s single richest source of funding may dry up, with states diverting these funds to ordinary road works and transit projects.
That risk is mounting. On March 19, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an order requiring states to return an additional $3.47 billion in transportation money. Governors will have the following 30 days to decide how to apply this cut to their state’s transportation budget.
To learn more and follow developments, visit these websites:
- Preservation Texas: http://preservationtexas.org/news/index.htm
Publication Date: May/June 2007