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State cuts road maintenance by a third through 2019

State transportation officials Thursday slashed road maintenance funding for the next decade to help pay for new roads, officials said.

Local officials will not know how Tarrant County will be affected until September, when the Texas Transportation Commission approves specific plans.

"We're out of money," TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott said after the commission's 4-0 vote in Austin. "We thought our cash flows would sustain that. We now know that we cannot."

The commission reduced planned spending on maintenance between 2009 and 2019 from $17.3 billion to $12.4 billion, Lippincott said.

Commissioners had been presented three options by staff at the meeting: cost estimates to keep 90 percent, 85 percent or 80 percent of Texas roads maintained in "good or better" condition by 2019.

Commissioners chose the 80 percent option, Lippincott said.

"That was a difficult decision for us," he said. "It reflects the challenges that pull the department in two different directions. We have a large and aging state highway system that requires constant maintenance. ... At the same time we are a state that grows by over 1,000 people a day and requires additional capacity to keep traffic moving," Lippincott said.

Jodi Hodges, a spokeswoman for TxDOT's Fort Worth district, said it is not yet known how the commissioners' decision will affect Tarrant County roads.

"We're in a funding crisis with fewer dollars to plan with, and this was the best proposal to meet the needs," she said.

Hodges said Tarrant County's roads are in good shape compared with the rest of the state but are stressed by increasing traffic.

"Every day more and more people are moving into the Metroplex, and maintaining the existing system that we have is crucial," she said. "A lot of the infrastructure that we have is 30 or 40 years old."

In December, transportation officials postponed $1.1 billion in statewide road projects that had been scheduled in 2008, saying that they were reluctant to build roads that the agency won't be able to pay to maintain. State lawmakers pushed back, saying Texas needs new roads and could get them if TxDOT planned better.

Congress and the U.S. Transportation Department have rescinded $666 million in federal gas tax funding previously committed to Texas in the past two years, to help the federal government bridge its own financial shortfalls. Texas officials predict that another $950 million in federal funding will be rescinded by the end of 2009.

Also, more than $1.5 billion has been taken from the state highway fund for other needs, such as education and state troopers.

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