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DRAINAGE & FLOOD CONTROL
WATER SUPPLY &
The 2013 Texas
Legislative session is shaping up to be a watershed moment for texas'
transportation infrastructure--are we going to be prepared for expected
growth or not? There appears to be some progress
What Texas is
Doing now to fund its transportation infrastructure is not working.
What we are
doing now is the equivalent of "kicking the can down the road".
They Are Saying About Texas Transportation Funding
We have the
beginnings of a real discussion about how to begin closing the gap
in transportation funding in the State of Texas. This is a start.
A very good start. Let’s keep up the momentum.
TxDOT Tells Lawmakers
Funding Crisis Around the Corner
February 4, 2013
After funding billions of dollars in roadwork through
debt over the last decade, the Texas Department of Transportation is
two years away from a severe drop in funding unless lawmakers find
more cash, agency officials said at a budget hearing Monday.
TxDOT Chairman Phil Wilson told the Senate Finance
Committee that the agency is at a crucial turning point as large
state bond programs are set to hit their limit by 2015.
“The fact is, we’re running out of capacity to issue
the debt — we’re maxed out — and that’s where most of our money
comes from,” Texas Transportation Commission Chairman Ted Houghton
told the committee.
More than a decade ago,
lawmakers paved the way for an era of “innovative financing” at
TxDOT in which the agency ramped up highway projects largely by
issuing billions of dollars in bonds and approving
more toll roads.
The spending peaked in 2009, with TxDOT moving forward with more
than $9 billion in highway contracts that year, according to written
testimony submitted by the agency to the committee Monday. If new
revenue isn’t found, TxDOT expects funding to drop to less than $3
billion in highway projects in 2016 — a level far short of meeting
the needs of a state growing as fast as Texas, agency officials
Wilson told senators the
agency needed at least $4 billion a year in additional funding: $3
billion for expanding the state’s transportation network and $1
billion to keep up with maintenance. Exacerbating the situation is
truck traffic related to the natural
gas drilling boom that
has caused billions of dollars in unexpected damage to roads and
bridges around the state in recent years.
R-The Woodlands, described the situation as “a fiscal cliff of
“This is one of those areas where really the future
of our state is hanging in the balance,” Williams said.
TxDOT officials said the agency has accrued about $13
billion in debt. Its proposed budget for the next two years proposes
devoting $2.5 billion of its $20.8 billion budget to servicing that
State Sen. Kevin
R-Tyler, said the amount of money TxDOT is having to put toward its
debt shows that lawmakers have made poor decisions about
transportation funding. He said raising taxes years ago would have
been far cheaper than the situation the state currently faces.
“Sometimes the conservative thing is to pay cash,”
While Sen. John
D-Houston, agreed with Eltife that lawmakers needed to find more
revenue for TxDOT, he expressed annoyance that agency officials
hadn’t spoken more urgently at the hearing and beforehand about how
serious the problem is.
“Y’all don’t seem nearly as excited and anxious as I
would expect. …Y’all got to get excited if you expect the
Legislature and its constituents to respond,” Whitmire said.
He accused Wilson, who was appointed to head the
agency in 2011, of passively taking his salary and not aggressively
tackling the problems.
Wilson apologized if Whitmire didn’t feel a sense of
urgency from the presentation but took issue with the notion that he
wasn’t committed to finding a solution.
“I came back to try and fix this,” Wilson said. “I
didn’t come here to draw a check.”
At the hearing, lawmakers discussed several options
for raising more money for transportation, including increasing car
registration fees and withdrawing $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund
to finance $4 billion to $6 billion in transportation projects.
Williams spoke about restoring $400 million of the $600 million in
gas tax revenue that is currently diverted from the state's highway
fund each year to support the Department of Public Safety.
Wilson declined to tell lawmakers which options he
preferred but stressed the importance of having a reliable stream of
revenue for TxDOT. Any short-term fixes will make it tougher to plan
for projects in the future which will drive up costs, he said.
“That ability to plan for five to 10 years is just
mission critical,” Wilson said.
Fee Hike a Leading
Contender to Raise Money for Roads
Aman Batheja October 16, 2012
Texas lawmakers are
mulling ways to raise more money for roads during next year’s
legislative session and two proposals are drawing the strongest
The Texas Association of
Business has thrown its support behind a $50 hike in the annual fee
Texas drivers pay to register vehicles, with the money earmarked for
new transportation projects. Meanwhile, some key lawmakers favor
dedicating to roads the sales tax from vehicle purchases that Texans
As the 2013 legislative
session approaches, transportation advocates have been trying
to draw more attention to severe shortages in road funding,
stressing that delaying road work around the state will lead to more
congested roads and more expensive fixes later on.
"The cost of doing
nothing is very expensive," said state Sen. Robert Nichols,
R-Jacksonville, who was appointed chairman of the Senate
Transportation Committee earlier this month.
Federal and state gas
taxes remain the primary revenue source for road construction and
maintenance, but they are widely viewed as inadequate for the
state’s needs. Texans pay 38.4 cents in federal and state taxes per
gallon, a figure that hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years despite
inflation, rising construction costs and the improving fuel
efficiency of cars. And the state’s 20 cents-per-gallon gas tax is
lower than the national average of 29.7 cents per gallon, according
to the Legislative Budget Board.
The Texas Legislature,
though, is unlikely to approve raising the gas tax for the
foreseeable future, lawmakers and political observers say. Past
efforts to raise fees or taxes have failed, in part, due to
criticism that a large portion of the gas tax is currently diverted
to spending on things other than roads, such as funding the
Department of Public Safety and public education. But ending the
diversions also faces an uphill battle, because those areas of
government that rely on some of the gas tax would have to find new
funding to replace it. House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has
called for ending budget diversions in the next session. Last year,
state Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, proposed raising the
state’s vehicle registration fee by about $50. Unlike the gas tax,
registration fees are entirely dedicated to transportation and do
not fall as cars become more fuel efficient.
Such a fee hike would
generate $1.2 billion a year, which could then be leveraged to raise
several more billion by selling bonds, according to the Texas
Transportation Institute. Texans currently pay an annual state
registration fee of $50.75 for cars and light pick-up trucks. The
cost typically increases to about $65 with the addition of local
county fees and other fees. Texas has the 18th-highest vehicle
registration fees among states.
The Texas Association of
Business recently endorsed doubling the state portion of the vehicle
registration fee to bankroll new transportation projects. TAB
President Bill Hammond said his group’s board voted nearly
unanimously in support of the plan.
“Clearly this is a
difficult task, but the business community in Texas feels like it’s
spending an awful lot of time waiting in traffic,” Hammond said.
“This would be new money coming in for maybe $15-16 billion of bonds
for road construction.”
Rather than raising a
current fee, Nichols wants to take a tax that many Texans already
pay and dedicate the revenue to roads. He is calling for a
constitutional amendment to dedicate the sales tax on new and used
vehicle purchases to expanding and maintaining the state highway
system and to paying off transportation-related debt. The money
currently goes into the state’s catch-all general revenue fund.
The change could be
phased in slowly over 10 years so as not to “wreck the budget,”
Nichols said. Though the amount of revenue raised for roads would be
small at first, knowing that the revenue stream would grow would
allow the Texas Department of Transportation to move quickly on
perhaps $10 billion worth of new projects, he said.
Nichols predicted that
the public would back such a measure because it makes intuitive
sense. “To take the tax on a vehicle and dedicate it to
infrastructure is a very logical thing,” Nichols said.
At last month’s Texas
Tribune Festival, state Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, who is
chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said Nichol’s
proposal has potential, because it would not be viewed as a tax
“That’s something we
could get on, and I think get some strong support in the House,”
Phillips said. Nichols said raising the vehicle registration
fee is also worth considering but that it might be a tougher sell.
“I think the big
question is whether raising the vehicle registration fee is going to
be considered a new tax or raising a tax,” Nichols said.
Phillips and Nichols are
among a handful of transportation-focused state lawmakers who have
been speaking around the state about the need to address funding
“It’s almost like
we’re enacting Paul Revere’s ride but we’re not saying ‘The British
Are Coming,’” said state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, at the
Tribune Festival. “We’re saying ‘The potholes are coming.’”
away is what we do when we drive on dangerous, poorly maintained and
congested roadways. Texas Good Roads and the Road Information
Program (TRIP) have studied the amount we throw away and found that
Houstonians PAY nearly $2,000 annually.
Let’s fix these
Houston roads are a money pit for
motorists, report says
10/2/12 10:58pm By Anita Hassan
A pothole causes the driver to get a flat
tire that leads to a two-car fender bender creating a
three-hour traffic jam. It's a harried scene possible on any
given day in Houston. And these bumps in the road - be it a
pothole, crack or rutting - come with a cost for all
Poor, unsafe and congested roads cost the
average Houston driver nearly an extra $1,900 per year, more
than motorists in other major Texas cities, according to a
transportation report released Tuesday.
These road conditions contribute to
higher vehicle operating costs, traffic congestion, car wrecks
and valuable lost time. Without proper state funding to
improve roadways, those costs are expected to grow, according
to the report by TRIP, an industry-financed transportation
research group in Washington D.C.
"We find from the report that
we literally throw money out the window when we drive," said
president of the
West Houston Association,
a business and community organization, and former executive
member of the
Texas Good Roads Association.
"Improvements are critical."
Federal Highway Administration
data, the report found that about 47 percent of major roads in
Houston are in poor or mediocre condition, which leads to
increases in repair, fuel and tire costs for drivers. Using
state and federal data, the transportation group estimates the
average Houston driver spends $415 annually in vehicular
operating costs because of roads that need repair. The
remainder of the $1,900 Houston drivers are estimated to pay
because of poor roads includes costs for accidents and
congestion, which leads to wasted time and fuel. "Your
vehicle depreciates more rapidly (on bad roads); it means
you're going back to see your mechanic more often. In some
cases it's even going back to the showroom to buy a new car
more often than you anticipated," said
TRIP's associate director of research and communication, who
helped author the report.
The group did not identify specific
roadways needing repair. Factor in crashes
A lack of safe roadway features was a
factor in nearly a third of all fatal and serious traffic
crashes in the state, Bonifas said.
Roadway improvements such as
adding turn lanes, removing or shielding obstacles and
enhanced lighting could help reduce crashes, according to the
report. Roads that are deteriorating, lack safety features or
have an outdated design also can lead to traffic congestion,
Bonifas said. The report says congestion overall is causing 57
hours of added time spent on the road per year for the average
Houston motorist. Those delays waste an average of 28 gallons
of fuel annually per driver.
21, who works at a Lowe's Home Improvement store in northwest
Houston, said she often leaves early or stays at work late
just to avoid traffic. "I have to stay in traffic for about
an hour and a half to get to my job, which is only 20 minutes
away (from her home)," she said.
These costs facing drivers will increase
dramatically if significant funding in the state is not put
into place to address poor roadway conditions, according to
director of transportation and planning for the
Houston-Galveston Area Council,
said Texas has some of the lowest vehicular registration fees
and gas taxes in the country. He said current transportation
fees and taxes are no longer adequate sources of revenue to
help improve and maintain the state's roadways. Clark said
adequate funding will help improve roadway and traffic
conditions in Houston as well as the region's quality of life.
"We can give people back their lives
again," he said. "That time that they spend stuck in traffic."
"worse than acceptable. " fUNDING FOR tEXAS ROADWAYS LAGS EVEN THE MOST
CONSERVATIVE LEVELS NEEDed TO MEET GROWING DEMAND. (fROM tEXAS
underfunded roads, sometimes a shortcut can make all the difference.
That's why TIN developed its Legislative Action Center to help you get
your voice heard about the need for transportation funding. The best part?
It takes less than 30 seconds from start to finish.
The second chapter of the Cost of Doing Nothing resource
book takes a look at highway construction awards from 2003 through 2017.
The new letter introduces your legislators to the "Cost of Doing Nothing"
concept, with instructions on how to use the Texas Infrastructure Now
website and documents. Remember: The more letters our legislators receive,
the more important they will consider the issue of mobility in Texas. To
send your letter, click on the icon above and follow the instructions from
there. For more information, contact Lauren Robison Williams with Texas
Good Roads at email@example.com. Send your letter now!
As we learned in Chapter One, Texas needs a minimum of $6 billion a year
for construction and maintenance to achieve even the worst acceptable road
conditions. Looking at the graph below, Texas will exceed this standard
for the first time in 2013-and according to new figures, may even reach
the "Minimum Competitive" benchmark at $9.5 billion. This will enable the
department to make great progress in improving pavement standards and
reducing congestion times, and is great news for Texans everywhere.
Without increased investment by the next legislature, however, the
progress is short-lived. By 2014, Texas will only have about $2.8 billion
for construction and maintenance, even less in subsequent years.
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram February 2,
Texas automobile owners could face higher annual
motor vehicle registration fees in the coming years to raise new
revenue for roads.
Texas Transportation Commission chairman Ted
Houghton of El Paso is in Euless this morning, speaking to a group of
about 200 transportation advocates from the Fort Worth and Dallas
areas. Houghton offered a preview of issues that are likely to be
discussed in the months leading up to the 2013 regular legislative
session in Austin.
Houghton noted that although he is prohibited as commission chairman
from advocating for (or against) specific laws that would raise
transportation revenue, he will be suggesting to state lawmakers in
the coming months that it's time to raise revenue for highways and
other transportation projects.
He told a joint meeting of the Tarrant Regional Transportation
Coalition and Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition that, while it's not
realistic to push for an increase in the state's motor fuels tax, it
is sensible to ask lawmakers for higher motor vehicle registration
fees. For example, he said, an increase of $50 per car could generate
as much as $14 billion for transportation projects. The precise amount
would vary, depending upon how much of the money was spent outright,
and how much was leveraged with other pools of money.
"We need to start talking about it with our representatives and
senators, a revenue increase at this time," Houghton told the group
during a meeting at Texas Star conference center in Euless. "We have
bonded money. We have gone into debt. The Texas House and Senate have
graciously given us the $3 billion in bond financing we need. But
that's debt financing. We need revenue."
The state's gas tax of 20 cents per gallon hasn't changed in two
decades, and elected state leaders have repeatedly said there is
little chance of a tax increase in the coming years. Motorists pay
that tax as well as an 18.4-cent per gallon federal gas tax
everytime they visit the pumps.
The amount of motor vehicle registration that Texans pay annually
varies depending upon the type and age of vehicle they drive -- as
well as which county they live in. But a good rule of thumb, the
owner of a fairly new, typically-priced vehicle in a metropolitan
county currently pays about $70 a year. So an increase of $50 a year
would be huge.
But Houghton noted that the increase could be much smaller. It
would depend upon the wishes of legislators. New Texas
Department of Transportation executive director Phil Wilson also
addressed the crowd, and spoke about how his efforts to modernize
the agency. Several Fort Worth-Dallas asked questions of the
state leaders, and expressed concern that by allowing toll roads to
be built in North Texas they might miss out on some of the future
revenues that are dispersed statewide.
WHA Note: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett
Culture Map Houston
about the importance of efficiency in the movement of goods from our Port
of Houston to the markets of the US. He states the “…problem is
apparent. If we do not invest in transportation improvements, our area
will fail to reach its potential and might even wither. Unfortunately,
there is no single, easy answer.”
He continues, “All it takes is the same
visionary, can-do attitude that put us where we are today.”
TIME FOR TOUGH DECISIONS
Houston's future as a port depends on a good transportation network
BY HARRIS COUNTY JUDGE ED EMMETT in Culture Map Houston
01.17.12 | 10:37 am
Imagine Houston without the Ship Channel. If community leaders a century
ago had not pushed boldly for the inland waterway, Houston would not be
the petrochemical and industrial center that it is today.
Today, our region finds itself facing the need for another bold
initiative. That need is for a transportation network that will allow us
to realize our future potential as a dominant economic center for global
Globalization is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Products will
continue to be imported from far-flung countries. And as currency values
fluctuate and other economic factors change, exports from the United
States could increase. In any case, there will be a huge quantity of
international trade coming to and from North America. The vast majority of
those products will be moved by oceangoing ships.
The future of Houston, Harris County and the surrounding region could be
one in which we are one of the focal points of ocean-going shipping in
this hemisphere. All it takes is the same visionary, can-do attitude that
put us where we are today.
Historically, there have been numerous seaport cities on any given coast,
but with the advent of “containerization,” the number of truly active
general-cargo ports has declined. Ports with facilities for loading and
unloading containers are competing for the increasing cargo volumes.
Containerization and technology-driven logistics have created an emphasis
on “just in time” delivery systems, in which shippers and receivers of
freight no longer maintain excessive warehouse inventories. Goods are now
“stored” in transit. This trend, combined with rising fuel and operational
costs, has pushed ocean carriers to build and use larger and larger ships.
These larger ships are best utilized by minimizing port calls and the time
spent in port.
In order for ever-larger ships to unload their containers in a timely
manner, the trucks and railroads serving the ports must operate
efficiently. Congestion is the biggest enemy of supply chain management.
So the future of Houston, Harris County and the surrounding region could
be one in which we are one of the focal points of ocean-going shipping in
this hemisphere. All it takes is the same visionary, can-do attitude that
put us where we are today.
Houston and the surrounding region are perfectly positioned to become “The
Gateway of North America.” Our location is central to the continent. With
the widening of the Panama Canal, ports in this area will no doubt
benefit. More importantly, though, as India, Africa and Brazil inevitably
become larger trading partners, ships carrying cargo from those areas will
come across the Atlantic Ocean and most likely make a single port call in
North America. We are perfectly positioned to be the favored port.
However, if that freight cannot be moved inland efficiently, we could be
bypassed by another port location, just as Felixstowe grew from nothing to
pass London, Liverpool and other historic ports in the United Kingdom.
The rail and highway network serving the Houston area is an amalgamation
that has developed over more than a century. The railroads, for the most
part, were built by individual private companies. Until the mid-20th
century, some railroads still provided passenger service, so key rail
lines still go through downtown.
As the railroad industry reacted to deregulation, companies merged to the
degree that we are left with only three railroads serving the region. And
those three railroads operate over lines that were laid out long before
Harris and surrounding counties had become an urban center with millions
If that freight cannot be moved inland efficiently, we could be bypassed
by another port location, just as Felixstowe grew from nothing to pass
London, Liverpool and other historic ports in the United Kingdom.
The rail lines also were designed to serve retail customers and warehouses
– facilities that are now served almost exclusively by trucks. Of course,
the main rail routes were selected when there was no containerization,
intermodalism or even unit trains. As a result, the rail network is
desperately in need of redesign.
Unlike the privately funded railroad lines, the area highway system has
been completely funded by tax dollars and tolls. Decisions about where to
put highways have been made by public officials who answer to a political
process. That process gives extreme weight to the wants and desires of the
traveling public, both inter-city and commuters. Houston has grown up as
an automobile city. Indeed, the state of Texas is automobile-focused.
While the need for personal mobility in the region will continue to grow
with a burgeoning population, the need for a renewed freight
transportation network will be more important to economic vitality. In
these times of tight budgets, how do we meet our transportation needs?
All levels of government should make transportation funding a priority.
The federal government would do well to recognize that the Interstate
Highway System, an engineering marvel that greatly contributed to the
economic expansion of the United States, is in need of maintenance and
expansion to serve the demands of global markets. It is also time for the
federal government to do what is necessary to assist major ports with
their dredging needs to accommodate ever-larger ships, with the
development of rail infrastructure to increase intermodalism, and with new
emphasis on short sea shipping so that more freight can move via coastal
and inland waterways.
Unless the Legislature takes action, the Texas Department of
Transportation will barely have the funds to maintain the current system
and no money for the improvements necessary for our economic growth and
The state of Texas, long recognized as having the best highways in the
nation, finds itself in a real bind. The 20-cent gasoline tax has not been
raised since the mid-1990s, and it was never indexed for inflation. Over
the years, the Legislature has diverted significant portions of the
gasoline tax to purposes other than building roads. Unless the Legislature
takes action, the Texas Department of Transportation will barely have the
funds to maintain the current system and no money for the improvements
necessary for our economic growth and expanding population.
Local governments also are severely challenged in their efforts to avoid
crippling congestion and deteriorating roads. Harris County has stayed
ahead of other areas through the use of toll roads. Nobody likes to pay
tolls, but it is preferable to being trapped in ever-increasing traffic
congestion. The problem is apparent. If we do not invest in
transportation improvements, our area will fail to reach its potential and
might even wither. Unfortunately, there is no single, easy answer.
Governments must make transportation funding a priority because that will
allow economic activity that will, in turn, generate the taxes to fund
other needs. Public/private partnerships must be designed to bring
otherwise unavailable resources into the development of transportation
infrastructure of all types.
But above all else, the tax-paying public must understand the importance
of moving forward. When legislators and other public officials make bold,
tough decisions to assure our future, we should applaud them, just as we
applaud those leaders who decided to build a ship channel a century ago.
Greater west houston has made
historic strides in improvement to its transportation network, but an
improved funding outlook is essential for any further significant
The West Houston Association has worked for years and over several
sessions of the Texas Legislature to support increased transportation
funding for Texas roadways, the most critical point of leverage for an
improved outlook for new roadway design, engineering and construction.
As we entered the last, 82nd Session of the Legislature, the West Houston
Association published its recommended funding policies to elected and
appointed officials throughout the Houston metropolitan area.
That report is summarized below and you may read a copy at this link (PDF)
REDUCED FUNDING PROJECTIONS RESULTED IN
A DRASTIC REDUCTION OF TRANSPORTATION PROJECT PROGRAMMING FOR THE HOUSTON
METRO AREA--AFFECTING MAJOR GREATER WEST HOUSTON PROJECTS
The region's transportation plan (Regional
Transportation Plan or RTP) was reduced by $23 billion over the 10 years
September 2010 summary comparison of the original to the revised plan at
this link (PDF).
TRANSPORTATION RELATED RESULTS OF THE
82nd TEXAS LEGISLATURE
The following summary is based upon a
report by ABHR LLP, Allen Boone
Humphries Robinson LP.
The Texas Department of Transportation
continued through the Sunset process in the 82 Legislature after receiving
an extension and continued review in the previous session. The
result in the 82nd was that TxDOT will continue to exist and undergo
sunset review again in four years. The bill (SB 1420) passed by the
Legislature imposed several internal controls on financing and financial
for reorganizing TxDOT were made by the Sunset staff and Commission prior
to the 82nd Session. You may read the November, 2010 staff report at
The bill also streamlined environmental
review; authorized limited use of design-build contracts for projects of
$50 million or more and limited the number of such contracts to three in
any fiscal year.
No new funding source was provided by the
Legislature but they did authorize under the adopted State budget an
additional $3 billion in bonds. (Funding from these bonds are now being
committed to projects throughout the state in a so-called Prop 12, 2
allocation. Houston's US 290 has received some of those funds.
A description is provided at this link.
Several projects around the state received
authorization to enter into Comprehensive Development Agreements (CDAs).
This was not a blanket authority. It is limited to both projects
selected by the Legislature and limited to the period of time projects are
eligible for CDAs. In the Houston area these projects were
authorized for CDAs:
State Highway 99
(Grand Parkway); State Highway 249; State Highway 288; and
US Highway 290.
In other action, Local Primacy on Toll
Roads the Legislature passed SB 19 supports local agencies as the first
option to develop toll roads and confirms SB 792 passed in the 2007
legislature as it affects toll roads.
Also, Transportation Reinvestment Zones
were tweaked or cleaned up in HB 563
County assistance districts for
transportation improvements are made a possible option in SB 520.
An extensive archive on
transportation funding is available at this WHA link.