Members of the Transportation Advocates of Texas Board of Directors and guests gathered Aug. 28 to review the outcome of the recent legislative sessions and to discuss the importance of providing information to the public about the transportation funding constitutional amendment that will be on the statewide ballot in 2014.

 

 

Rider Scott, Dallas Regional Mobility Coalition

Shanna Igo, Texas Municipal League

Andrea French, Transportation Advocacy Group

Jerry Haddican, TxDOT

Bob Lanham, Williams Brothers

Legislative Efforts to Raise New Revenue
For Highway Projects Fall Short

A Roundup of Transportation Legislation

 

September 2, 2013

 

The 2013 Texas Legislature approved more than a dozen transportation bills that have been signed into law but the effort to get new funding for highways fell short.

In the third special sessions there was some success.  In the most significant step forward, lawmakers agreed to let the voters decide the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment that would direct approximately $1.2 billion a year to highways from future oil and natural gas production taxes.

APPROPRIATIONS
The two-year Appropriations Bill provides the Texas Department of Transportation with $200 million each year from the state fuels tax that was previously diverted to the Department of Public Safety.  This is far short of the additional $4 billion a year TxDOT needs to stay even.

Bills aimed at generating new revenue to fund transportation were either withdrawn or never made it out of the appropriations committee.  Many made it clear they opposed taking votes on increases in fees or fuel taxes.  There appeared to be substantial support for shifting some existing revenue from vehicle sales taxes from General Revenue to the State Highway Fund but in the end this proposal was sidetracked.

A proposal to add $30 a year to the vehicle registration fee made it to the House floor but was pulled down before a vote was taken.  There were several vehicle registration fee increase bills introduced with the intent of raising new dedicated revenue for highways. 

One reason heard for reluctance to act this year was that the highway funding problem appears to be off in the future.   TxDOT has had a robust construction program in recent years fed by what will be almost $18 billion in borrowing by 2015. The Legislature, along with citizens in a couple of constitutional amendment votes, authorized bond sales that produced increases in TxDOT spending on roads beginning in 2004.

The largest of those spikes — $9 billion in 2013 — was taking place as legislators are being told more money is needed. There were numerous mentions of “orange barrel fatigue” during the session.   Starting in the 2014-15 fiscal year, TxDOT will have less than $3 billion a year for roads, and a large percentage of that will go to maintaining existing roads rather than building new ones.  One result is that highway construction companies across the state are reducing staff and preparing in hopes of surviving the coming drought of new projects.

OILPATCH ROAD DAMAGE AND SAFETY
The state  budget also provides a one-time $450 million appropriation specifically directed at hundreds of miles of damaged rural roads in the South Texas Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin oil and gas fields.  TxDOT has indicated that it would require more than $1 billion each year just to deal with the damage being done to state highways and farm-to-market roads by thousands of oilfields trucks servicing the booming oil patch.

Only $225 million of the appropriation is available to TxDOT for roads on the state system. TxDOT has identified 155 projects that need to be rebuilt and has estimated that the $225 million will alow funding for the top 39 of those safety projects - most of them in the Eagle Ford Shale. TxDOT has issues a request for proposals to complete the 39 projects under a design-build contract.

 

The additional $225 million will go to repair county roads.  First a county will be required to set up an Energy Transportation Reinvestment Zone to capture increased property value near the roads to be improved. The law allows a county to pledge property tax and sales tax increments to a specific transportation project.  Then the county will have to apply for grants administered byTxDOT that will require a local match depending on certain specific criteria.

 

During three special sessions called to consider transportation funding important progress was made on making lawmakers aware of the need for more funding for transportation.  House Speaker Joe Straus at one point indicated that he felt legislators would be ready in 2015 to take a more comprehensive approach to funding “our growing state’s growing transportation needs.” 

 

Transportation Advocates of Texas supported virtually all proposals during the 2013 Legislature that would have provided additional funding to deal with the impending highway funding cliff.

 

Other transportation legislation approved includes:

 

SB 1730 by Sen. Robert Nichols continues comprehensive development agreement authorization for TxDOT and for regional mobility authorities.  The law adds non-tolled highway projects and reconstruction projects to the list of eligible CDA projects including nine in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and five in the Rio Grande Valley.  It includes a CDA authorization for projects including all of the Grand Parkway, and sections of I-35W, I-35E north and south, SH 183, SH 288, US 290, I-820, SH 114, Loop 12, Loop 9, US 181, Loop 1, US 183, Cameron County Outer Parkway, South Padre Island 2nd Causeway, Loop 49, Loop 375, Northeast Parkway in El Paso County, Loop 1604, Hidalgo County Loop and International Bridge Trade Corridor. 

 

SB 1110, by Nichols, now allows creation of a multi-county transportation reinvestment zone.  It allows local governments to spend money on projects outside their jurisdiction if the projects would benefit that local city or county.

 

Local bills now authorize Bexar County (San Antonio), Webb County (Laredo) and El Paso County to approve an optional $10 county fee for vehicles registered in those counties. Legislation requires that the funds flow through to a local regional mobility authority.  In San Antonio the revenue is expected to be approximately $12 million a year for road and bridge projects. The new fee will generate approximately $1.6 million per year in Webb County and $6 million a year in El Paso County. This approach was approved in earlier sessions for Hidalgo and Cameron counties in the Rio Grande Valley.