By Mike Barnett
Farm-to-Market roads and Ranch-to-Market roads could become endangered in Texas if a plan snowballs to convert existing paved roadways to gravel in six Texas counties.
The problem is a limited amount of road repair funds and a sharp increase in heavy traffic from the oil and gas booms. The conversions will presently affect roads in four South Texas counties (Live Oak, Dimmit, LaSalle and Zavala) and two West Texas counties (Reeves and Culberson).
The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDot) maintains paving roads is too expensive and there are not enough highway funds to repave them all. “Our only other option to make them safer is to turn them into gravel roads,” a TxDOT spokesman said in a Texas Tribune article.
Texas Farm Bureau disagrees.
TFB President Kenneth Dierschke says the 83rd Legislature passed much-needed legislation to provide voters an alternative to increased transportation funding via constitutional amendment next year. There is also $450 million allocated for counties to access money for oil- and gas-related traffic damages via Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zones.
Texas has one of the best networks of roads in the nation. The Farm-to-Market system was established in 1949 (Texas Farm Bureau was instrumental in its passage) and farmers and ranchers depend on this system of secondary and connecting roads to get their crops and livestock to market. They also depend on the roads to move services to and from rural towns.
Converting the FM roads in these six counties from paved to gravel sets an unsettling precedent and the rest could become easy pickings as the state continually scrambles for money.
FM roads are vital to rural communities and agriculture. That’s why Texas Farm Bureau has asked Governor Perry to advise the Texas Transportation Commission to cancel plans for road conversion.
Texas cannot afford to let its rural roads turn into mud and dust.