South Texas County Gets Off TxDOT's Gravel List

A damaged portion of the IH 37 frontage road, south of  FM 99 in Live Oak County, Texas on Friday, August 16, 2013. The road is on a list of roads that the Texas Department of Transportation has announced will be converted to gravel because the agency lacks funds to keep them maintained at a safe level.
A damaged portion of the IH 37 frontage road, south of FM 99 in Live Oak County, Texas on Friday, August 16, 2013. The road is on a list of roads that the Texas Department of Transportation has announced will be converted to gravel because the agency lacks funds to keep them maintained at a safe level.

A South Texas county at the center of the Eagle Ford Shale drilling boom has worked out an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to avoid the conversion of 20 miles of its paved roads to gravel.

In July, TxDOT released a list of 83 miles of paved roads that it intended to convert to gravel, including portions of FM 469 and FM 3408 in La Salle County. The news angered local officials and residents. TxDOT officials argued that the agency lacked the resources to maintain the roads, which were wearing out too quickly amid a surge in truck traffic tied to energy exploration.

Under a deal announced Wednesday, TxDOT will cover the cost of labor to repair the portions of FM 469 and FM 3408 while the county will pay for the materials. The county has also agreed to take responsibility of the road’s maintenance for the next five years, or until energy-related traffic drops off.

La Salle County officials plan to pay for their responsibilities through a financing tool called a county energy transportation reinvestment zone (CETRZ), which the Legislature created for energy sector counties this year. The concept is a variation on traditional transportation investment zones, in which a public entity borrows money to fund a transportation project with plans to pay the loan back from the additional tax revenue the project is expected to attract. A CETRZ would focus on an area impacted by energy exploration and production.

La Salle County Judge Joel Rodriguez said county officials decided to include the two roadways targeted for conversion to gravel in its CETRZ after becoming aware that TxDOT lacked the funding to continue maintaining the roads.

"We stepped up to the plate, found a solution and appreciate TxDOT's willingness to being our partner to avoid graveling our roadways,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

After initially converting five miles of road to gravel in Live Oak County in August, TxDOT instituted a 60-day moratorium on the practice. Since the end of moratorium at the end of the October, agency officials have said it has no current plans to perform any more conversions. Agency officials have also said they will hold hearings in an area ahead of converting any paved roads to gravel there.

“Reaching this agreement first and foremost enables us to continue to provide safe passage for those driving in Eagle Ford Shale communities,” said Phil Wilson, TxDOT's executive director. “We look forward to working with these counties and strengthening these roads to keep them safe going forward.”

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