Innovative Ideas Will Get Traffic Moving Again
From the Metroplex to Brownsville, from Beaumont to El Paso, traffic gridlock is jeopardizing our quality of life, economic opportunity and citizen safety.
In 1999, more than 3,500 Texans died on our roads. Since 1960, vehicle traffic in Texas has increased 375 percent, but spending per vehicle mile traveled is now 68 percent below what it was that year. Eighty percent of truck and rail traffic between the United States and Mexico travels through Texas, and Texas is now home to the busiest ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Vehicle miles traveled are increasing faster than we're building new traffic lanes, and over the next 25 years highway usage is expected to increase 56 percent.
Statistics aside, the most compelling reason to get traffic moving is personal. Every hour you spend waiting in traffic is an hour that could be better spent with your family, with a child at a Little League game, or volunteering in your community.
If we continue to take a business-as-usual approach to transportation infrastructure, Texas will continue on a collision course with longer traffic delays, more employers deciding to expand and locate elsewhere, and more accidents.
Fortunately, Texas legislators are now considering several innovative proposals to address the traffic problem across Texas.
SB 4 and SJR 16, authored by Senator Florence Shapiro, create the Texas Mobility Fund and allow state-backed bonds to be issued for needed road and highway projects. Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. has another piece of legislation that leverages future federal highway revenues to secure bonds today.
Texas allows bond financing for schools, prisons and even light rail lines. But unlike most other states, Texas does not allow bonds to be used to build roads or highways.
The concept is familiar to anyone who has purchased a home, financed a farm, or taken a small business loan. The state would use revenue - small in relation to our total $4.5 billion annual transportation budget - to finance bonds. Bonding is a fiscally sound and responsible way to get more dollars into our transportation system today. One-hundred million state dollars, for example, would allow $1 billion of highway bonds to be issued.
The annual cost of inflation for highway construction has averaged 5.7 percent over the past 10 years, but the interest rate on bonds is now less than 4.5 percent. That means it's possible to complete $1 billion worth of highway projects using bonds over a three- or four-year period at roughly the same real cost as completing $1 billion worth of projects using the pay-as-you-go approach over a 10-year period.
New Mexico, for example, recently embarked on a 118-mile project using bonds backed by state bonds and anticipated federal revenues. The project, which was approved by federal highway experts, was originally expected to take 27 years to complete using the pay-as-you-go system. It's now expected to be completed by the end of this year thanks to bonding. New Mexico's results have been so good that they entered a second bond agreement last month.
Other innovative transportation ideas are also being considered by the Legislature. SB 298, authored by Senator Frank Madla, authorizes the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Texas Turnpike Authority to approve pilot projects using the design-build method of highway construction. Design-build, which is used in office building, school and sports arena construction, may save up to 40 percent in design and construction time while lowering costs. The Texas prison system used the design-build system during the 1990s prison construction boom to quickly add facilities while cutting construction costs.
SB 342, SJR 12, HB 1045 and HJR 55, authored by Senator Florence Shapiro and Representative Clyde Alexander, allow TxDOT to partner with toll road authorities to build road projects using state dollars and toll revenues. These measures would allow toll roads to be completed much more quickly.
SB 1404 by Senator Frank Madla directs TxDOT to issue two construction contracts per biennium specifying a limited pavement warranty. Texans get warranty protection when they buy a car or a refrigerator. You deserve a similar guarantee that the roads your taxes paid for will stay in good working condition.
State leaders have about 60 days until the end of the legislative session, and business left incomplete will not be addressed for another two years. We have three basic options:
- Do nothing, maintaining our business-as-usual approach while allowing gridlock to worsen and our quality of life to suffer. Under the current pay-as-you-go system of highway funding, Texas is able to fund only 36 percent of needed road projects.
- Increase gasoline taxes. This is an option I oppose. Revenues to state government have increased by more than $5 billion since the last session and we not do need new taxes. Most Texans believe they are already paying enough at the pump, and recent OPEC actions threaten to drive gasoline prices even higher.
- Use smarter, innovative financing ideas, such as road bonds, toll roads and pavement warranties. These measures stretch our transportation dollars and help build needed roads and highways more quickly.
If you're tired of unsafe and time-consuming traffic, state leaders – especially your local senator, representative and members of the House Transportation and Appropriations committees and the Senate Finance and State Affairs committees – need to hear from you today!
The next time you are frustrated by highway gridlock, wouldn't it be good to know that state officials are using every responsible measure to get traffic moving again? But alternatives will not be available unless legislators hear from people who are sick and tired of wasting time and energy in traffic. Let’s change the status quo, get highways built, and get Texans moving again. Your safety and quality of life are at stake.
Increased Road Funding Without Raising Taxes »