By Mike Barnett
Texas roads were once the envy of the nation.
Ribbons of highway stretched from Beaumont to El Paso and Brownsville to Amarillo, smooth black asphalt that moved Texas motorists and commerce quickly from here to there. Rural roads were second to none, a web of Farm-to-Market highways that carried crops and livestock to markets to feed a hungry nation.
Something happened. People discovered Texas was a great place to live. They came in droves. 25 million Texans lived here in 2010. Expect 40 million by 2040.
As a result, engineering marvels turned into overcrowded, dangerous byways. Highway use increased 200 percent since the 1970s while highway capacity increased only 19 percent.
Then, a stagnant oil and gas industry revived with new drilling methods. Business boomed and with it came traffic: heavy trucks and a bunch of them, crunching and grinding road surfaces—never meant to handle this load—into treacherous, deadly routes.
Now, the backs of the rural roads in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, once lightly traveled, are broken. Some have been closed. What happened there is spreading west and north, as new oil and gas fortunes are made.
The problem is funding. Or lack thereof. Recent estimates say Texas needs $250 billion over the next 25 years to keep congestion at bay. The Texas Department of Transportation claims they will run out of money by 2016. That’s two short years away.
The main sources of funds for Texas roads are gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees. Neither has been raised in decades.
There is hope, however. It’s called Proposition 1 and it’s on the ballot in November. If approved, surplus money collected from oil and gas production taxes will be transferred to the State Highway fund. This is not a personal tax. It requires no new debt. It includes no tolls. The Legislature earmarked $1.7 billion a year as a part of this constitutional amendment.
Proposition 1 is not the end-all to our transportation issues. But it’s a good start in paving our way toward a better future.
Our parents and grandparents invested in my generation years ago. One result was a road system that rivaled the best. It laid the path for the prosperous Texas we are so proud of today. We owe it to our kids and grandkids to do the same.
Proposition 1. Vote “Yes” for a bright future Nov. 4.