While most Texans are painfully aware our state has been in a drought for the past 3 years, many don’t realize we have been in a transportation funding crisis for the past 10 years. In November, Texans will have a unique opportunity to permanently improve highways across the Lone Star State. Proposition 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would add billions in reliable transportation funding – an estimated $1.4 billion in the first year alone – without new taxes, fees or debt.
In Texas, our highways are showing their age. The Interstate Highway System is preparing to celebrate its 60th birthday. With a typical design lifespan of 50 years, most of the system now requires increased levels of expensive maintenance. In 2004 the maintenance and rehabilitation needs surpassed TxDOT’s traditional funding from the gas tax, and we have continued to lose ground. Texas is falling behind, with at least $5 billion in unmet transportation needs annually.
Our highways are also becoming more congested. The population of Texas has grown 125 percent over the past 40 years, and is expected to rise another 65 percent by 2050. Texas highway use has subsequently risen 238 percent, but our highway capacity has increased a mere 19 percent over that same timeframe. The Texas Section of ASCE applauds TxDOT’s innovative use of public-private partnerships and toll managed lanes to provide additional highway capacity and relieve congestion – but those solutions do not help maintain our existing freeways.
If approved by voters, the amendment would authorize annual disbursements from the state’s oil and gas production tax collections to the State Highway Fund. Specifically, half the money currently destined for the Rainy Day Fund will go to the State Highway Fund. (The other half would continue to build the Rainy Day Fund, which is forecast to reach a record high in 2015 and approach its constitutional cap by 2020, even with Proposition 1 in place.) While the Proposition 1 may not be the whole solution, it is an important step forward.
Proposition 1 is a fiscally sound solution that does not divert money from other public investments, burden taxpayers or unduly jeopardize the Rainy Day Fund. On November 4, 2014 it will be up to Texas voters to do their part so that future generations of Texans continue to enjoy the commerce, safety, security and competitiveness of our highway system.
Curtis Beitel is the 2014-2015 president of the Texas Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Experts from across the state gathered to discuss Proposition 1 and other vital infrastructure topics at the first-ever Texas Civil Engineering Conference in Galveston on September 16-19. For more information, visit www.TexasCECON.org.