Breaking the Gridlock
Anyone who has driven in Houston knows what it is like to be stuck in traffic. Houston traffic can strike at any moment – during a rush hour commute, during the 12-month “construction season,” and even on a seemingly normal Saturday afternoon as you head for a child’s ballgame. It is an unfortunate reality of our tremendous growth that traffic congestion is as much a part of our daily routine as reading the morning paper or arguing over the latest college football polls (for the record, this Aggie thinks the Longhorns are getting the raw end of the deal, but I digress.)
Texas traffic is such that by the time a freeway expansion is complete, it is often just in time for the next needed expansion. As a fast-growing state, we have to confront the reality of aging infrastructure and a lack of capacity that jams millions of drivers onto the same roads each day.
Those who think a hike in the gas tax is the solution need to realize they would have to pay at least 50 cents more per gallon just to get close to meeting our infrastructure needs. Wishing for more federal funding is also not the ultimate solution. Nor is doing nothing. That’s why the state has taken matters into its own hands by utilizing innovative financing solutions.
Just recently the Texas Transportation Commission approved a $21.5 billion transportation project that included $3 billion in bond proceeds to accelerate highway construction projects in major urban areas – an ambitious effort called the Metropolitan Mobility Plan. Because of these new funds, nearly 90 percent of the major metropolitan highway projects planned for the next 12 years will be completed in half the time. And nearly $1.2 billion – 40 percent – of these bond proceeds are headed to Houston to accelerate the construction of 16 key transportation projects.
The funding will be used to widen I-45 from Medical Center Drive to Beltway 8 to include ten main lanes, with two three-lane frontage roads and two HOV lanes; reconstruct and widen I-10 from east of Beltway 8 to east of Silbur Road, and from west of Highway 6 to east of Kirkwood to include 8 main lanes, 4 managed lanes and 3-lane frontage roads; and construct new overpasses at US 59 at FM 2919 and Isleib Road.
These projects will be accelerated by one to four years. Other jobs in the area, like the expansion of Highway 249 from Willow Creek to Brown Road, will be completed up to eight years faster because of this new funding.
Texas voters made these new funds available by passing ballot propositions in 2001 and 2003 that allowed the state to leverage up to $6 billion in transportation bonds for construction projects. For the first time in history Texas can use its bonding authority to dramatically accelerate the construction and completion of transportation projects across the state. And that’s a big part of the reason we are pouring more concrete to build more roads faster than any other state in the nation.
Had the state relied only on gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, funds to reduce urban congestion through 2016 would have been limited to $6.8 billion. But because of the choices made at the ballot box, mobility funding for the state’s largest cities will top $15.4 billion.
The transportation projects we are accelerating in Houston and across the state will help ease congestion, clean up our air, encourage business expansion and improve safety conditions on highways in our largest urban areas.
While it is important to accelerate expansion of the current system, we can’t lose sight of a long-term vision. The fact is the Texas population will double in a few short decades. I can’t imagine cramming all those new Texans onto the same crowded roads we drive on today. That is why I have proposed the Trans Texas Corridor. With 4,000 miles of roads, railways, pipelines and utility lines constructed in new corridors, we will move hazardous cargo out of city centers, further connect Texas to trade opportunities, and help clean urban air.
It is a bold and innovative plan that has even caught the attention of the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said his state should model itself after Texas when it comes to transportation strategies. Imagine that: California looking to Texas for solutions. We always knew they did. We must be doing something right.
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