• October 26, 2014

Possible loss of federal funds won’t impact current area road projects

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Posted: Wednesday, April 30, 2014 11:45 pm

The Federal Highway Trust Fund is vastly approaching the red and could potentially curtail future road construction projects across the state, including those in Killeen.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2012 to fund transportation programs with more than $105 billion for the 2013 and 2014 fiscal years, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation website.

TxDOT gets about $3.4 billion of that federal money annually, TxDOT spokesman Mark Cross said.

With the expiration date approaching in early September, the depletion of dollars in the Federal Highway Trust Fund falls during an election year. The November election will change the congressional makeup, which could result in a gap in funding if it’s not resolved beforehand.

U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He said several hearings have been held to get the bill through committee and moved to the House floor for a vote by summer.

“It’s easy to see that several regions in the state of Texas, including Killeen, are not just growing in population — they’re outgrowing existing transportation infrastructure,” he said. “The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure ... has ramped up efforts to quickly reauthorize the multiyear surface transportation bill to ensure these much-needed projects are not delayed or ignored.”

Looking to the future, with Killeen experiencing annual population growth, the lack of funding could potentially inhibit the city’s ability to keep up, putting a strain on residents’ quality of life.

U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said the issue is much more than a local problem. It’s an issue that will impact communities across the nation.

“Transportation and infrastructure in our local community are crucial to quality of life. They help the local economy create jobs, grow small businesses and provide Central Texans with a strong quality of life,” he said.

Congress has to look at the current funding mechanisms that are in place to build and repair roads on all levels, from the national level down to the local level, Carter said.

“They must be reviewed so we can continue to improve our roads and support local projects like the (U.S. Highway) 190 expansion,” he said. “In the meantime, the problem continues to get worse. The Obama administration’s energy policy has accelerated the bankruptcy of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. ... Tough decisions are going to have to be made to keep these funds from expiring.”

CURRENT PROJECTS

Although the loss of federal dollars could have an impact on future road projects, it won’t delay or halt any existing construction.

Projects currently under construction — like the widening of U.S. Highway 190 and State Highway 195 — won’t be impacted by the loss of federal dollars, said TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts. Funds for those projects already have been allocated and progress is expected to continue as planned.

Cross said the same is true statewide.

“Currently, there is no absence or slowdown of federal transportation funding for Texas,” he said. “So the state’s transportation projects remain on schedule or are at least not delayed due to federal funding.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison said the reduction in funding will have an effect on Killeen, but it’s “not possible” to attach a dollar amount to the potential loss. He said the funding break won’t have an impact on the city’s plans to widen Trimmier Road or extend Lowes Boulevard. Those projects are set to go before the city council for bid sometime this year.

The city currently receives monies from TxDOT through Category 7 funding, which is part of the Surface Transportation Program allocated to urbanized areas with populations exceeding 200,000. The funds are distributed to Killeen through the Killeen-Temple Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“Funds are distributed (from TxDOT) to various regional planning organizations and dispersed by (the planning organization’s) leadership,” Morrison said. “Scoring criteria is used to prioritize projects and then ultimately the projects are voted on by the boards that oversee the funds.”

Scott Cosper, a representative for Killeen on the KTMPO board, said the Category 7 funding is used to subsidize projects that communities are going to complete anyway. However, even with the Federal Trust Fund potentially entering the red, Category 7 money won’t be affected.

“A reduction in funds does not affect (Category 7 funding) for at least the next two or three years,” he said. “It’s a formula-driven funding source, it’s not discretionary — meaning those funds are guaranteed.”

Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin, vice chairman of the KTMPO board, said the organization recently revised its plan for allocating Category 7 dollars. The plan is currently in the public-hearing stage.

A constitutional amendment that will go before voters Nov. 4 could help fill the potential gap if federal funding disappears.

The Texas Transportation Funding Amendment would divert $1.2 billion annually in oil and gas taxes from the department’s Rainy Day Fund toward transportation funding for repairs and maintenance, Cross said. The $1.2 billion revenue is paid by drilling companies.

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