Texas Cities Maintain Control Over All Streets within Their Boundaries
Lake Jackson may be the only Texas town to have named its streets This Way, That Way, Any Way, and His Way (which runs behind a church), but for all municipal streets in the Lone Star State, it’s either the city’s way or the highway.
Texas Transportation Code Chapter 311 makes it abundantly clear that Texas cities control the streets within their boundaries: “A home-rule municipality has exclusive control over and under the public highways, streets, and alleys of the municipality.” Section 311.002 applies the same level of authority to general law cities. Some of the specific powers granted to home-rule cities include:
- controlling, regulating, or removing encroachments or obstructions
- opening or changing a public street or alley
- improving a public highway, street or alley
General law cities are also granted the power to construct, maintain and regulate bridges, and construct, improve and regulate the sidewalks within the city limits. Any city can establish and operate a freeway and can do any number of things in conjunction with building the freeway, including acquiring land, close, construct, or connect an intersecting street, and lease the area underneath a freeway for parking. And finally and perhaps most importantly, a Type A general law municipality is specifically empowered to “prohibit or suppress horse racing on a street or immoderate riding or driving of an animal on a street,” and I think we can all rest easier knowing the immoderate riding of animals is being suppressed. Additional chapters in the Transportation Code grant even more and more specific powers to cities regarding their city streets.
All of these powers are vested in the city regardless of whether the streets are public or private and regardless of which entity – the state (TXDoT), county, or city itself – actually “owns” the roadways or rights-of-way on which the streets traverse. This means that other entities – such as the county the city is located in, or a developer wanting to build in the city – must get the permission of the city before doing anything that might amount to the control, operation, or obstruction of the streets in a city’s established boundaries. For example, Texas Transportation Code Section 251.012 requires the commissioner’s court of a county to get the approval of a city council before constructing, improving, or maintaining a roadway within the city limits.
One of the most powerful tools for a city to control its streets is found in Subchapter E of Chapter 311 of the Texas Transportation Code – the ability to assess adjacent landowners for the cost of improvements to public highways, streets, and alleys. The city can issue certificates for the payment of the assessments, which create enforceable liens on the abutting property for the assessed costs. A home-rule city’s charter must provide for apportioning the costs of the improvements, and a general law city must have the assessment passed by a two-thirds vote of the aldermen before it can be made. These assessments, of course, raise both legal and political questions, so cities should consult with an experienced municipal attorney before approving these financing measures.
Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our municipal law practice can be found here.
Drew Shirley is a Houston attorney with experience in tort and business litigation and business and real estate transactions. Shirley graduated cum laude from Duke University, then received two advanced degrees – a master’s in journalism and a law degree – from the University of Texas at Austin. He joined the Randle Law Office in 2015.