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TxDOT traveling bumpy road
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal (Lubbock Online) ^ | February 18, 2008 | Enrique Rangel

Posted on 02/18/2008 1:33:51 PM PST by Tolerance Sucks Rocks

AUSTIN - When it comes to road improvement and maintenance, by most accounts, the South Plains and Panhandle are fortunate.

Despite a $1.1 billion accounting error, the Texas Department of Transportation recently reported no projects in the region have been canceled or delayed while cities like Dallas, Houston and Laredo had at least a half dozen highway projects delayed.

But the $1.1 billion-error, which occurred because TxDOT inadvertently counted some bond money twice and consequently allocated more funding than it had, is just the latest problem plaguing the beleaguered agency.

For months, TxDOT executive director Amadeo Saenz and other transportation officials have been warning state officials and the public that the agency is running out of money for adding lanes and building new highways.

To complicate matters, the accounting goof occurred at a time when TxDOT is fighting a public relations battle over the Trans-Texas Corridor, a proposed 4,000-mile network of new toll roads and rail lines from the border with Mexico to Oklahoma and funded and operated by a giant Spanish company and a San Antonio partner. A good number of people, including legislators, have accused the agency of using some of its funding to promote the controversial $183 billion project that Gov. Rick Perry proposed six years ago.

"There are many people, myself included, who believe this is a ploy to pressure us to go back to toll roads," Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said at a recent joint hearing of the Senate Finance and Transportation & Homeland Security committees after learning about the accounting error and the highway projects that were delayed as a result.

"These are, indeed, rough times for TxDOT and the state's highway system," said Robert Harrison, deputy director at the Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas at Austin.

On the one hand, "the politicians are convinced that the private sector is the answer," Harrison said of the proposed toll-road system. But on the other, "you can see that the public is genuinely confused."

The bottom line, however, is the state highway system is hurting financially and even areas like West Texas, which have not had many funding problems because their road needs are deemed not as critical as those in the big urban areas, are already feeling the effects of TxDOT's financial woes, said Mark Tomlinson, senior engineer for TxDOT in the Panhandle.

"By a long stretch, we don't have enough money," Tomlinson said. "It is increasingly difficult for us to build some of the freeways to keep up with the (traffic) growth."

Since it was created 90 years ago, "TxDOT built a 79,000-mile system across our state," Tomlinson wrote in a recent column published in the Amarillo Globe-News. "As this system grew, the cost of maintaining and operating it also grew to the point that it's now requiring practically every dollar we have just to keep it in good shape."

And though toll roads are not expected in West Texas anytime soon, it is just a matter of time before the region gets involved in the debate that is already taking place in communities along Interstate 35 as well as other metropolitan areas, such as Houston and Corpus Christi, he said.

Root of the problem

To Harrison and others, Texas finds itself with a deficient highway system for a variety of reasons, but the most important is explosive population growth of the last quarter of a century - 60 percent.

From July 2006 to July 2007 alone, Texas added nearly half a million residents, the highest number in the nation and nearly 200,000 more than California, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Yet, despite the explosive growth and the skyrocketing gas price increases of recent years, the Legislature has not raised the state's 20-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax since the early 1990s, and the diesel tax has remained unchanged even longer, said former State Rep. Ray Barnhart. Barnhart also served seven years as Highway Commissioner under President Ronald Reagan.

"Only 23 states have had the political will to change the fuel tax, but Texas is not one of them," said Barnhart, who in a recent letter to State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, blasted him and other legislators for blaming TxDOT for the state's highway problems.

"If the Legislature had acted when I warned them 15 years ago, Texas highway problems wouldn't be as critical as they are today," Barnhart said in an interview. "They didn't have the guts to deal with the big truck lobby."

Because of their enormous weight, 18-wheelers and other big trucks put a lot of strain on the state's roads, but the Legislature has refused to increase the diesel tax that would pay for better maintenance of the state's highway system, Barnhart said. A $5 billion bond package Texas voters approved in November won't be enough to alleviate some of those problems because the state needs much more than that amount just to maintain its highway system.

The outlook

Barnhart makes some valid points but he is too quick to blame the Legislature for TxDOT's financial woes, said State Rep. Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, which recommends the funding for all state government agencies.

"It's a combination of those factors," Isett said. "We have not given them everything they wanted but we have given them a lot. We try to fund more money for roads but a lot of that money comes from the feds," too.

Besides, "every time something goes wrong it's always the Legislature's fault," Isett said of critics like Barnhart.

Isett, whom House Speaker Tom Craddick recently appointed chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission, a 10-member legislative panel in charge of overseeing all state government agencies, said TxDOT is among 27 agencies up for review this year, and one thing the panel members will carefully look into is the agency's finances and proposed projects.

That includes toll roads and a possible fuel tax increase.

"I am not a tax and spend guy, but we need a serious discussion about it," Isett said of the idea of raising the gasoline tax to increase TxDOT funding.

Michael Reeves, president of the Ports-to-Plains Coalition, the proposed corridor that would go from Laredo to Denver via Lubbock, Amarillo and other West Texas communities, said although in West Texas transportation is not the burning issue it is in Houston and the large metropolitan areas along I-35, "there is a consensus that we need to spend more on highways."

"The question is how do we do it?" Reeves asked. "Do we increase the gas tax or is there another alternative, which is toll roads."

However, Reeves conceded the latter would be a hard sell in West Texas, just like in other parts of the state.

"Toll roads are kind of foreign to us in West Texas because we don't have the same congestion as Dallas or Austin," he said. "But the bridge collapse in Minnesota has helped raise the public awareness that we need to spend more on our roads and bridges system.

"I think it's a healthy debate."

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Canada; Crime/Corruption; Government; Mexico; News/Current Events; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: accountingerror; alberta; alternatives; amadeosaenz; amarillo; austin; bonds; brownsville; business; canada; carlisett; cintra; corpuschristi; cuespookymusic; dallas; dc; deis; delrio; denver; dieseltax; easttexas; economy; eis; eminentdomain; farmers; fredunderwood; fueltax; fundingcrunch; gasolinetax; gastax; growth; hearings; highwayfunding; highwayprojects; highways; houston; houstoncounty; i35; i69; i69ttc; ih35; ih69; impeachrinorickperry; inflation; infrastructure; interstate35; interstate69; jimmcreynolds; judithzaffirini; keepontrucking; kirkwatson; landacquisition; landowners; laredo; legislature; lobbyists; lonniehunt; lubbock; lufkin; maintenance; marktomlinson; mexico; michaelreeves; military; nacogdoches; nobuild; ok; oklahoma; opposition; p3; polkcounty; population; populationgrowth; portstoplains; ppp; privatefunding; privateinvestment; privatesector; privatization; publichearings; ranchers; raybarnhart; rickperry; roads; robertharrison; ruralcaucus; saskatchewan; shippers; southplains; sunsetcommission; taxes; texarkana; texas; texasfarmbureau; texashouse; texaspanhandle; texassenate; tfb; tierone; tiertwo; tollroads; tollways; tomcraddick; transportation; transtexascorridor; trashtexasconjob; trinity; trinitycounty; trucks; ttc; ttc69; tx; txdot; universityoftexas; us59; us87; walkercounty; washington; westtexas; zachry
Proposed Ports project funding still up in the air

By Enrique Rangel
Monday, February 18, 2008

AUSTIN - With all the attention the proposed Trans-Texas Corridor has gotten in recent years, mainly because of growing public opposition, it is easy to forget West Texas has its own corridor in the works - the Ports-to-Plains Corridor.

The corridor is a proposed divided highway stretching from Laredo through West Texas to Denver to facilitate international trade from Mexico to Canada. And though Congress designated it as a high priority 10 years ago, it has yet to get full funding.

"It is time to establish the financial plan so we know exactly what we're aiming for," Fred Underwood, a Lubbock businessman and member of the Texas Transportation Commission, said on Sept. 20 at a three-day, Great Plains International Conference in Denver.

"Our agency will devote the resources to getting this done in partnership with the Ports-to-Plains Trade Corridor Coalition," Underwood said. "We must make this corridor a reality and make Ports-to-Plains a familiar name to communities along this route who will benefit tremendously from its completion."

Underwood's office said he was out of the state last week and could not be reached for comment. However, although the state has yet to devise the complete financing plan for its share of the 1,400-mile interstate corridor, in Texas as in the other states, the project is advancing said Michael Reeves, president of the Ports-to-Plains Corridor Coalition.

"We have some projects under way in Del Rio and on Highway 87 in the Panhandle," Reeves said. "What we're trying to do is incorporate highways into the system."

The Coalition is optimistic the project can be completed in 20 years, Reeves said, because at $2.8 billion for the entire route, the estimated cost is a bargain compared to other TxDOT projects.

For example, it would cost $46 billion just to upgrade the Texas portion of Interstate 35.

"The challenge we face is inflation," Reeves said. "We really need to make a commitment. The gas tax is not producing the money so we're trying to get federal money... we're trying to get every resource we can."

The benefits for West Texas are incalculable, Reeves said. The corridor would be the nation's freight alternative, offering shippers, as well as the military, a low-density, low-congestion alternative to the major trade corridors. In addition, the Ports-to-Plains Corridor would help the state expand its booming wind power sector.

Although they are not part of the corridor, Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada, are connected to the project through routes from Denver. And while Mexico is the state's largest trading partner, the Lone Star State also is doing booming business with Canada, especially with Alberta, he said.

"It's very important to see the corridor under way," said Mark Tomlinson, district engineer for TxDOT in the Panhandle. "It encourages growth."

But because of the financial problems the agency faces, Tomlinson said he anticipates part of the plan likely will be delayed.

Rep. Carl Isett, R, Lubbock, is optimistic the project will eventually be fully funded because it is in the entire state's interest to see it completed as it will take away some of the freight traffic from I-35.

"My colleagues understand that the Ports-to-Plains Corridor helps their districts as well," said Isett who is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, which recommends funding for all government agencies, and chairman of the Sunset Advisory Commission, the 10-member legislative panel which oversees the state bureaucracy.

Generally a government agency is reviewed every 12 years, and this year TxDOT is one of 27 due for review.

"This is a big part of the conversation in the Sunset Commission," Isett said. "The long-term structure of the agency will be part of the review process."

Toll Road Debate Widens Divide in East Texas

1 posted on 02/18/2008 1:33:52 PM PST by Tolerance Sucks Rocks
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To: TxDOT; 1066AD; 185JHP; Abcdefg; Adrastus; Alamo-Girl; antivenom; AprilfromTexas; B4Ranch; B-Chan; ..

Trans-Texas Corridor PING!

2 posted on 02/18/2008 1:34:44 PM PST by Tolerance Sucks Rocks (Cloverfield 2008! Why vote for a lesser monster?)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

Just say Hell No.

3 posted on 02/18/2008 1:41:50 PM PST by MrEdd (Heck? Geewhiz Cripes, thats the place where people who don't believe in Gosh think they aint going.)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

With all the push for toll roads, it was recently revealed that none of the current top toll roads are making money.

4 posted on 02/18/2008 1:54:56 PM PST by heywoodubuzzoff (:-))
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To: heywoodubuzzoff

Where’d you hear that? I’ve heard that there are toll roads around Austin whose usage exceeds what planners initially projected.

5 posted on 02/18/2008 2:05:09 PM PST by Tolerance Sucks Rocks (Cloverfield 2008! Why vote for a lesser monster?)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

Why is population growth a problem? More population means more cars and more wear on the roads, but it also means more fuel taxes.

And cars aren’t the problem, anyway. Most damage to roads comes from heavy trucks.

6 posted on 02/18/2008 2:33:50 PM PST by Cicero (Marcus Tullius)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

7 posted on 02/18/2008 2:49:53 PM PST by wolfcreek (Powers that be will lie like Clintons and spend like drunken McCains to push their Globalist agenda.)
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To: heywoodubuzzoff
With all the push for toll roads, it was recently revealed that none of the current top toll roads are making money.

D@mn straight. You could set up archery classes on most of the toll roads, they're so vacant.

8 posted on 02/18/2008 3:15:05 PM PST by Richard Kimball (Sure, they'd love to kill me, as long as they can do it without admitting I exist)
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To: heywoodubuzzoff

I’d also mention that most of the roads being built now are much more opulent than they used to be.

9 posted on 02/18/2008 3:18:48 PM PST by Richard Kimball (Sure, they'd love to kill me, as long as they can do it without admitting I exist)
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To: Cicero
"but it also means more fuel taxes"

Problem is the pols have spent all the money on other stuff...

With the exception of a couple of years the budget for roads has been flat for the past decade. The budget for H&HS which includes things like the CHIP program are pretty much uncontrolled. And the $500 million they started spending back in 2004 to revolutionize food stamps, welfare, etc? Back to the drawing board, it didn't work out so they had to scrap the plan. $500 million down the tubes? No problem, we're republicans, we're fiscally responsible and hold people accountable. Oh, and while we're at it let's re-appoint Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Albert Hawkins, it wasn't his fault that the whole project took a dirt nap. It was, uh, it was, aliens. Yes, that's it, the kind that fly around, that done it.

Rotten, incompetent scum that would steal a crumb of bread out of their starving mothers mouth.

10 posted on 02/18/2008 3:33:11 PM PST by Proud_texan (Stop global whining)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks
The way I see it is that trucks cause the majority of damage to roads. One 40,000 lb truck driving down the road is equivalent to 20,000 cars driving over the same spot. Thus, trucks do far more damage to the highways while not paying for the added wear and tear. Additionally, since the highways are heavily subsidized by motorists it gives the trucking industry a significant advantage over rail transport.

My solution for this funding shortfall would be to increase the taxes on trucks to cover the cost of the actual damage to the roads while also increasing the fines on unsafe trucks. This must include trucks registered in other countries such as Mexico or it would not work.

What I find humorous is that the Global Warming Cultists have not proposed this as a way to reduce emissions by encouraging more cargo shipments on rail with higher taxes on the trucking industry. They could even improve the emissions of rail transport by switching from diesel/electric to natural gas turbines generators. However, nobody said the GWCs are smart.

11 posted on 02/18/2008 5:09:31 PM PST by Global Warming Supporter
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

From July 2006 to July 2007 alone, Texas added nearly half a million residents, the highest number in the nation and nearly 200,000 more than California, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

I see a bit of a discrepancy between what the Census Bureau states and what is stated in the article.

According to census information, we have had a reported 12.7% increase in population in Texas between 2000-2006. That's an estimated increase of 2,655,963 people since 2000. 

Considering the size of cities like Houston, Dallas-Ft Worth, San Antonio, Austin, and El Paso, and the size of the state (in square miles), an increase of half a million residents in one year does not seem like much. IMO- the root of the problem is TxDOT.
People QuickFacts
  Population, 2006 estimate 23,507,783
Population, percent change, April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2006 12.7%
Population, 2000 20,851,820
Geography QuickFacts Texas
Land area, 2000 (square miles) 261,797.12
Persons per square mile, 2000 79.6

12 posted on 02/19/2008 12:19:20 AM PST by Sarajevo (You're just jealous because the voices only talk to me.)
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks


13 posted on 02/19/2008 2:55:23 AM PST by E.G.C.
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks

The roads may be busier but hey ain’t making money. Check out for details

14 posted on 02/19/2008 9:14:49 AM PST by heywoodubuzzoff (:-))
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To: Tolerance Sucks Rocks


15 posted on 02/21/2008 2:53:29 PM PST by hadaclueonce (shoot low, they are riding Shetlands..)
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