Road to Nowhere
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The issue of the state’s inadequate highway infrastructure has reared its head again. Most of the issues should be well known by this time:
(1) First and foremost, to keep up with demand for roadbuilding, TxDoT needs around $4 to $5 billion a year, every year.
(2) The main source of money for roadbuilding is the state’s gasoline tax, which has not been increased since 1991. The chance that state leaders will support an increase in the tax is slim to none.
(3) The increased efficiency of new automobile engines means that drivers can go farther on less gasoline, with the result that the gasoline tax can’t provide the money that is needed to build and maintain the state’s road system.
(4) The frequently-heard argument that money from gasoline taxes should not be diverted to other uses is a phony one. Recent budgets have called for using gasoline tax dollars to fund the Department of Public Safety. If the Legislature doesn’t dip into gasoline tax receipts to fund DPS, it will use them to fund other transportation projects (such as highway maintenance).
(5) The Legislature has proposed a constitutional amendment, to be voted on by the public in November, to provide $1.3 billion for highway projects. Even so, the dollars provided by the amendment will be a drop in the bucket for roadbuilding. It costs $250,000 to build an interchange.
(6) Those opposed to the amendment argue that state leaders should not dip into the Rainy Day Fund, the state’s savings account, to build roads. But oil and gas tax revenue has been so lucrative that the Rainy Day Fund quickly replenishes itself. As long as oil and gas keep flowing, there is little reason for concern that the Rainy Day Fund could run out of money. (One argument for protecting the Rainy Day Fund is that a major hurricane or similar disaster could seriously deplete the fund.)
(7) Transportation is an economic issue. Clogged highways result in time lost sitting in traffic, making it difficult for businesses to get their goods to market.
(AP Image / LM Otero)