On the shelf for six years, a transportation user fee appears ready for consideration by the Fort Worth City Council to help fund the growing gap in the cost of fixing and maintaining city streets, and building new ones.
A possible fee that would be tacked on to resident water bills was discussed in late 2010 but never voted on. The idea fell to the wayside in the Great Recession as the city worked to close budget shortfalls.
But now with an improved financial picture, the idea of a transportation user fee has been trotted out in staff presentations in the past few months as a companion to the transportation impact fee. Finding money for the city’s transportation needs will be discussed at the council’s annual retreat in February.
A user fee could only be used for street maintenance and repair, and to fix such things as street lights and traffic signals.
The city staff said it’s going to take $1.76 billion in the next 10 years to catch up on fixing and widening city streets, and building new roads to keep up with the city’s fast-paced growth. The figure includes $355 million needed for the traffic equipment rehabilitation.
Funding for all that would come from increasing the transportation impact fee that’s been in place since 2008, from continuing to issue debt through bond programs for new roads, dedicating more money from the general fund to fix roads, and implementing a transportation user fee, according to recent city reports.
But the staff said implementing a transportation user fee could take 12 to 18 months.
Based on preliminary figures, a transportation user fee could raise as much as $59 million annually from residents and businesses. For example, a single-family home might incur an $8.22 monthly fee, while some retailers and other commercial business might see a $10.75 monthly fee, a city report said. Again, the fee would show up on water bills.
The new suggested fee is 40 percent higher than what was considered in 2010. But it would also raise $20 million more than was initially sought.
7,520Lane-miles of Fort Worth streets
Fort Worth has 7,520 lane-miles and of those, 239 lane-miles are considered to be in poor condition and 1,238 in fair condition, according to the city’s Transportation and Public Works Department. It would take $550 million to rehab those, the city said. By the end of 2020, the city expects to have 7,680 lane-miles.
The problem is that we haven’t done enough studies on that among our communities to see what people really want and can bear.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price
Mayor Betsy Price has strongly suggested that the retreat focus solely on transportation, running the gamut from transit systems to roads. She said she’s certainly willing to look at a transportation user fee, but before anything happens, the public would have the opportunity to offer input.
“The problem is that we haven’t done enough studies on that among our communities to see what people really want and can bear,” Price said. “If we do something like this, and I’m not saying we will, we have to be able to explain why and what it will bring. I’m not willing to slide something through that hadn’t been adequately vetted.”
One reason it may be a tough sell this time around is that the mayor and all eight council members face re-election in May and approving a new fee might not sit well with voters come election day. Only three of the current nine members were on the council in 2010 when a user fee was first considered.
A few Texas cities charge transportation user fees, including Austin, Bryan and Corpus Christi. Last year, Denton considered such a fee for the second time in five years, but in the end tabled the issue.
Two current Fort Worth councilmen, District 6 representative Jungus Jordan and District 2 representative Sal Espino, were on the council in 2010 when a transportation user fee was first looked at. Both say there are other options to funding street maintenance, but Espino said he would support a user fee.
We’re way behind on roads. I don’t know how we get caught up unless we have a dedicated revenue stream. This is a dedicated revenue stream.
Sal Espino, District 2 councilman
“We’re way behind on roads,” Espino said. “I don’t know how we get caught up unless we have a dedicated revenue stream. This is a dedicated revenue stream.”
Espino, who is not seeking re-election in May, said another option is the city’s sales tax. He suggests redirecting a quarter-cent from the portion going to the general fund, or from that going to the Crime Control Prevention District.
“It’s an option,” Espino said.
District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who has addressed significant traffic congestion problems in his district since he joined the council in 2011, said he wouldn’t support a transportation user fee until the city staff can show a list of prioritized projects and a plan. He said the city should first look to state and federal resources.
“I want to see a plan,” Shingleton said. “It’s an alternative … but there are other ways to alleviate congestion.”
Jordan says he remains hesitant about pursuing a transportation user fee, in part because he feels it could create more bureaucracy. Instead, he points to the public improvement districts the council approved this fall for two large residential developments, in which the assessments can only be used to build roads in those projects.
“I don’t disagree we need more money for transportation,” Jordan said. But, he said, “I’m still not convinced” about a user fee.
That convincing may come soon. The staff is awaiting results of an update to a comprehensive consultant’s study completed in 2009 that compares how Fort Worth’s development costs compare with other cities. The results are used to help set the city’s transportation and water impact fees, and development fees.
In June, the council approved a $147,323 contract with A.N.A. Consultants to do the update. It’s expected to take about a year to complete, but a draft report is anticipated in late January.
The debate is just getting started. Costs are going up. We’ve seen a significant increase in the cost to build roads and other transportation-related infrastructure, including sidewalks and bike lanes. We need to be continually building the arterial system in a way that meets our needs.
Randle Harwood, Fort Worth’s planning and development director
All of this is setting the stage for the February retreat and the hopes the council can give the staff direction on how it wants to proceed, said Randle Harwood, the city’s planning and development director.