Austin voters will return to the polls Tuesday for a special election on a sales tax proposal, envisioned to repair city streets.

The voters will decide whether to approve a 1 percent permanent city sales tax to float a bond issue to pay for the repaving and upgrading of most streets in Austin.

Votes may be cast at the Cabot School District Curriculum Center, 1348 W. Main St. in Austin. Early voting will be allowed through Friday. If approved by voters, the tax would begin Jan. 1, 2013.

Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain said it would take about 30 years to pay off the bond issue, but that city streets had gotten so bad, the patch jobs the city has been doing can’t fix what needs to be fixed.

The city first tried to borrow the money with no success, but bond companies wouldn’t issue the bonds without a guaranteed sales tax dedicated to just paying them off, she said.

If voters approve the tax, it can be used only for roads, Chamberlain said.

City officials said they plan to widen the Old Austin Road to 22 feet from its current 19-foot width.

Chamberlain said there is sufficient right-of-way for widening the road without having to acquire land from the property owners, she said.

West Main Street to the city limits will be repaired, along with Oak Ridge, Memory Lane and many others, Chamberlain said.

She said roads in subdivisions that is less than a year old are the responsibility of the developers to repair and the city will hold developers responsible.

Chamberlain said the bond would be paid in about 30 years. After that, the tax could be used for general purposes.

She said she has been passing out a letter that explains the reasons for the sales tax, and the bond for which the revenue would be used to pay.

"The current growth in our city has made it imperative that we repair and upgrade our road infrastructure," the letter states. Currently, the turn-back revenue the city receives allows only for patching, Chamberlain said.

"We have patched and patched and patched some more," she said. "It is like pouring money in a sinkhole and the roads are still pretty pathetic," she said. "West Main Street is like a washboard. … It used to be that we could pay a company $50,000 and then make payments on the rest for repaving. But nobody does that anymore; now, it is all up-front payment. But we do not have that kind of money."