3rd Special Session Authorizes $1.2 B for Texas Transportation Pending Voter Approval
Watch the Video from Texas Infrastructure At this link: Doing Nothing is a Bad Idea
The 83rd Session, in its 3rd Special Session has dealt a winning hand to transportation in Texas.
The Texas Legislature adjourned its third special session since May on Monday night after passing a measure estimated to increase transportation funding by $1.2 billion annually if Texas voters approve it next year.
“Let’s adjourn this mutha,” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, after the Senate had sent House Bill 1 back over to the lower chamber for final passage.
It was the third try by lawmakers since the end of the regular session to pass a measure to boost funding for the cash-strapped Texas Department of Transportation without raising taxes or fees.
Gov. Rick Perry praised both chambers for “increasing funding for transportation without raising taxes, which sends an incredibly strong message that Texas is committed to keeping the wheels of commerce turning, while protecting taxpayers.”
TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said in a statement that the Legislature’s “commitment to funding transportation is a significant step in advancing key mobility and maintenance projects into the future.” “When it comes to transportation, the stakes facing our state could not be higher, and a failure to act now could take years — if not most of a decade — to correct, as traffic congestion increases and harms our quality of life,” Perry said in a statement announcing the call.–The Texas Tribune
What 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
Texas Tribune 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 said.
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.
Finance Committee chairman Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, described the situation as “a fiscal cliff of highway funding.”
“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 debt.
State Sen. Kevin Eltife, 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,” Eltife said.
While Sen. John Whitmire, 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
Texas Tribune 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 interest.
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 already pay.
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 increase.
“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 concerns soon.
“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.’”
Throwing money 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 roads up!
Houston roads are a money pit for motorists, report says
Houston Chronicle 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 motorists.
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 Roger Hord, president of the West Houston Association, a business and community organization, and former executive member of the Texas Good Roads Association. “Improvements are critical.”
Using 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 Carolyn Bonifas, 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. Brianna Osborne, 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 the report.
Alan Clark, 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 iNFRASTRUCTURE nOW)
With 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 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!
The Cost of Doing Nothing
Chapter 2: Lettings and Awards 2003-2017
The second chapter of the Cost of Doing Nothing resource book takes a look at highway construction awards from 2003 through 2017.
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.
Governor Perry signals no new or increased taxes in 83rd Legislative session
From Houston Chronicle April 17, 2012.
Borrowing a tactic from national anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, Gov. Rick Perry used a pre-tax day appearance Monday to propose a no-new-taxes pledge for Texas lawmakers, a pledge he said would “lead to a stronger Texas.”
Speaking in a New World Van Lines warehouse in northwest Houston, Perry said the company was typical of businesses with annual revenues of less than $1 million. He said such companies would benefit from the permanent continuation of a small-business exemption to the state’s franchise tax.
Perry laid out a five-part Texas Budget Compact that, in addition to no new taxes, calls for truth in budgeting, a constitutional limit on spending tied to the growth of population and inflation, using the Rainy Day Fund only for one-time emergency expenditures, and cutting unnecessary and duplicative programs and agencies.
“Each and every member of the Legislature or anyone aspiring to become a member of the Legislature should sign on,” Perry said.
Perry also noted that a major share of the state budget goes to Medicaid costs and that those costs will continue to rise if the U.S. Supreme Court does not rule against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Health Care for America Act.
He called Medicaid costs “a ticking time bomb” and renewed his push for states to have more flexibility through block grants.
Jeff Moseley, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Houston Partnership, endorsed Perry’s compact.
“The pro-business policies and accountable and responsible budgets adopted by Gov. Perry and legislators have given Texas an enormous advantage when competing for high-paying jobs, and helped Houston prosper to become the top region for corporate relocations in the U.S. in two of the last five years, including in 2011, and these principles will keep us on that path,” he said.
Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform, has exerted an outsized influence on lawmakers in recent years by encouraging punishment at the polls for those who do not adhere to his anti-tax pledge. Perry said he would not impose Norquist-style political pressure.
“No, there’s not a pledge that we’re going to have for anyone to sign,” he told reporters. “We hope people will read this, find something they can put their full faith and support behind. If groups want to take these and have a pledge, that’s their policy, but it won’t be coming out of my office.”
Michael Quinn Sullivan, whose conservative Austin-based Texans for Fiscal Responsibility exerts about as much influence over GOP lawmakers in Texas as the Club for Growth does in Washington, insisted the compact was an effective tactic to limit state spending.
“While we have Gov. Perry and right-thinking legislators, let’s be sure we put in place the laws to protect Texans for years to come,” he said.
Perry proposed his budget compact less than a year after lawmakers approved a two-year budget that included some $15 billion in cuts and eight months before an upcoming legislative session that is likely to produce additional hard choices.
“It’s a very good time to lay out your plan for the next session, while people are running for office,” said Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who joined Perry at the noon announcement. “It’s going to make people choose, and that’s a good thing.”
State Rep. Mike Villarreal, a San Antonio Democrat who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, warned Perry’s compact would damage Texas schools, health care and other state services.
“Gov. Perry loves to talk about his principles in the abstract, but he doesn’t want to discuss the disabled kids who lose health services when he won’t close corporate tax loopholes, or the students crowded into full classrooms when he won’t touch the Rainy Day Fund,” he said in a statement.
The current budget allocated about $4 billion less to public schools than they would have received under previous funding formulas, and cut approximately $1.4 billion in public education discretionary grants.
The budget also failed to fully cover the state’s Medicaid obligation for the period.
State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, also chided Perry, suggesting that he has been out of state recently and has not heard from Texans struggling because of budget decisions the Republican-led Legislature approved last year.
“Perhaps he hasn’t listened to the teachers, parents and children who’ve suffered as a result of bad budget practices and the perpetual lack of budget transparency. Or he hasn’t heard from the health-care professionals across Texas who are struggling under this budget, or the seniors, children and low-income Texans who were targeted by it,” Watson said in a statement.
Texans could pay higher motor vehicle registration fees to bring in new money for roads
From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram February 2, 2012
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 writes in 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 commerce.
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 of residents.
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 expanding population.
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 progress.
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 it covers. Read the 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 commitment. (Recommendations 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 this link.)
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.