Preservation Money Cut In Favor Of Traffic Relief

The head of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is calling on members to protest the state's decision to scrap a program to beautify museums, trails, parks and other amenities simply because of a shortfall in federal highway transportation funding.

Richard Moe, president of the Washington, D.C.-based group, said Texas is the only state in the country that has responded to recent cuts in federal highway spending by getting rid of its Statewide Transportation Enhancement Program.

Projects eligible for the enhancement program included provisions for bicycles and pedestrians, preservation of transportation facilities such as railways, control or removal of billboards and acquisition of scenic easements.

The state made the decision last fall after the Texas Department of Transportation learned it would not get $305 million in federal funding because Congress needed the money for other things, including the war and hurricane response efforts.

To make up the difference, the state targeted the enhancement program, worth $450 million over the current highway bill's six-year lifespan.

In a letter asking members to complain to Gov. Rick Perry, Moe said the cut was a "very bad and ill-informed move" that he worried could spread to other states.

"That's obviously a very bad precedent," Moe wrote. "For one thing, we think it seriously undermines the congressional intent of this program."

The decision in Texas has drawn similar criticism from other groups, including the Texas Historical Commission.

Transportation Department spokesman Mark Cross said the agency has not changed its position on the matter. He added that the agency has passed along $466 million to 505 different enhancement projects through the years.

The Transportation Department already has committed $184 million to previously approved projects but plans to let the federal government keep the remaining $266 million.

In a letter rejecting more than 300 pending grant requests, Transportation Commission Chairman Ric Williamson said the agency did not want to divert money from its core mission of congestion relief.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.