Dallas’ streets need to be fixed, but the city can’t afford another $300M in debt these days
The poor state of Dallas is a hot topic in the city, causing complaints from local residents and wrestling hands from city guides. We understand the need to invest more in our streets, but this week a proposal was made to include a $ 300 million street bond program in the May vote. This is a bad idea.
The proposal seemed to have fallen from the sky when it was debated during a Special Council committee hearing on Thursday. City officials had been informed of the issue on the evening of January 29 and were arguing about details to share with councilors shortly before the meeting began.
As it turned out, the last-minute meeting was not part of a secret effort to get a massive referendum on bonds through. It was more of a last-minute effort coordinated between council members Jennifer Gates, Cara Mendelsohn and Adam McGough to bring about positive change for the city. You rightly identified the problem. You just followed the wrong plan.
The need for road repairs is so great that a $ 300 million loan program will only contain the road problem. City officials told the city council that Dallas should budget $ 347 million a year to keep the roads from deteriorating further.
Approximately 28% of the 11,807 lane miles in Dallas are rated “D” and “E” which means they are in such poor condition that they need to be re-surfaced or reconstructed. In addition, about 51% of the city’s traffic signals were built before the 1980s and have exceeded their useful life.
Gates said the city has consistently underfunded roads, and Mendelsohn argued that the longer the city waited, the more roads would deteriorate from “D” to “E”. It will cost the city approximately $ 380,000 to rebuild one lane mile and $ 2 million to rebuild one.
Here is the problem. Dallas cannot currently afford $ 300 million in additional debt. Dallas still hasn’t issued $ 710 million in debt from a $ 1.05 billion bond package that voters approved in 2017 (about half of which went to transportation projects). Chief Financial Officer Elizabeth Reich told the council it needed to hike property tax rates sharply or postpone issuing debt for projects approved in 2017. The city will not be able to cover the proposed road bond program on top of its existing debt.
The city council could pursue the $ 300 million proposal and avoid a tax rate hike by cutting up at least $ 26 million in city services, according to city estimates. Think closed libraries and unkempt parks.
A majority of the council members at the meeting of the special committee judiciously voted to postpone the proposal. We’re glad you heard Reich advise city officials to wait until July before deciding for the city to receive the certified tax role. At this point, Dallas will have a clearer understanding of what its pandemic finances might be.
We’d better wait until we have more information on the city’s future finances and we urge our leaders to be more conscious and sustainable in addressing the problems with our roads.