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TxDOT Compiles 2015 Legislative Review

 

August 27, 2015

 

The TxDOT staff has prepared a comprehensive review of transportation-related legislation enacted by the 84th Texas Legislature that finished its work in June. The report is an overview of important transportation bills and other legislation that affects TxDOT's daily operations.It notes that while funding was the lead issue, other legislation was passed dealing with contracting reform, transportation planning, debt management and traffic safety.

 

At the top of the list was HB 1, the General Appropriations Act, which provides the Department of Transportation with $23.1 billion from all funds for the FY 2016-2017 biennium, which is an increase of $104 million over the total for the 2014-2015 biennium just ending.

 

Because previously approved bond funding is now nearly depleted it was necessary for lawmakers to come up with substantial additional funds just to fill that gap and keep spending near levels of the past two years.

 

Traditionally, the state's highway system has been funded with motor fuels taxes and registration fees but those revenues have not kept pace with the demands for transportation funding. That is compounded by the decreased purchasing power of highway funds, increasing fuel efficiency, and uncertainty of available federal funds.

 

A key to maintaining funding levels was passage in 2014 of Proposition 1 which it is estimated will provide about $1.2 billion a year in the next two years.

 

By the end of the Legislative Session significant progress was made on funding, and tolling was
left relatively unaffected. However, while funding was increased, certain bonding authority was restricted and oversight of TxDOT was increased. The department is scheduled for Sunset Review during the 2017 Legislative Session. While no anti-toll legislation was passed, there was a continuation of the precedent set in 2013 of prohibiting certain funds from being used for toll roads, and a study was authorized that will analyze the cost of removing tolls from projects around the state.

 

Lawmakers, after several sessions of discussion, succeeded in ending the diversion of State Highway Fund proceeds to pay for the Department of Public Safety (DPS) policing of public roadways, which will result in an increase in funding for road projects of approximately $600 million per year. This was accomplished in part by HB 20 (Rep. Ron Simmons/Sen. Robert Nichols), which removes from statute the authority to fund these DPS activities from the Highway Fund, along with
an appropriation of general revenue in the budget to fund the DPS activities. In other words, the policing of roadways by DPS will be funded from general revenue rather than from TxDOT’s budget, leaving that money for TxDOT to spend on roads.