AUSTIN (AP) _ The Texas Department of Transportation may change its plans to shift nearly all of its highway construction dollars to maintenance, reversing course on a policy announced last fall that was criticized by lawmakers.
The agency instead is considering proposals to spend more on new roads, a change that agency leaders said Thursday is largely because of legislators' complaints.
"Taking into consideration the strong signals we received from the Legislature, (this plan) would reprioritize funding for maintenance," said chief financial officer James Bass. "We've been talking for many months about the need to increase funding for maintenance. But given the circumstances, that may not be feasible."
Commissioners will vote on the policy shift next month.
The plan put forth by the transportation agency staff would set aside about $5 billion for adding new lanes and highways and $12 billion for repairing existing roads and bridges.
Previous plans called for the agency to spend about $17 billion for maintenance and none on local projects.
The agency took a drubbing last month by senators convinced the agency paints a grimmer-than-necessary picture of its finances to increase support for Gov. Rick Perry's push for toll roads and privatization.
Texas Transportation Commission interim chairman Hope Andrade said this week that the agency is attempting to strike a different pose than the one favored by her predecessor, Ric Williamson.
Williamson, who died in December, was a fiery proponent of an ambitious road-building agenda favored by Perry, his close friend. It was an agenda that relied heavily on toll roads and privatization.
"We owe so much to Chairman Williamson, and he set the ground and foundation for everything we are doing," Andrade said. "What we are seeing now is a little different style, that is all."
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said Thursday in a written statement that state lawmakers already have told the transportation agency to get serious and issue more debt to fast-track construction projects.
Dewhurst said the Legislature has promised to increase funding for the agency to cover the debt service when it returns to Austin in January.
That's not a wise course, several commissioners said Thursday, even as they pledged to continue discussing the idea of additional borrowing with lawmakers between now and next year.
"The pressure to borrow more and more is like asking someone to load up your credit card and just hope that you'll get a raise next year to cover the payments," said Commissioner Ted Houghton of El Paso.
Information from The Dallas Morning News: www.dallasnews.com
Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.