The $1 billion in reserves that the Harris County Toll Authority holds may end up being used for more than just road expansion. With the pressures of unreimbursed healthcare costs to counties rising, road users may end up being the 'gap-funding' of choice to fill holes in the county's budget. Read more about the Harris County Commissioners have already used toll road revenues as their own personal slush fund here.
Harris County is in good shape, but shoulders staggering health care burdens.
February 22, 2013
When Harris County Judge Ed Emmett delivers his 2013 State of the County speech to a friendly Greater Houston Partnership audience on Monday, he will be able to say what few others in his position around the nation can. We're in good shape.
But shhhhhh! We're going to need to spend more at the county not merely to keep up, but to anticipate future growth.
The county's position is strong and getting stronger, thanks in large part to a booming economy; but also because of forward-looking decisions made by county leaders across the decades. That's a tradition Emmett aims to continue, and one we strongly support.
Entities such as the Harris County Toll Road Authority help position the county to continue to meet the pressures of a rapidly expanding population at a time when the Texas Department of Transportation is literally going broke. The Toll Road Authority, with its $1 billion in reserves, is a large reason Harris County maintains a AAA bond rating, which shaves millions off of interest expenses annually. This isn't to say that Harris County is problem-free. Far from it.
Link to article here.
New technology unveiled at Texas forum transforms driving
By Terri Hall
February 21, 2013
From Google’s self-driving car to harnessing electromagnetic induction to power buses and cars with clean energy, the eighth annual Texas Transportation Forum held in Austin left industry gurus breathless with new possibilities for transportation as smart technology merges with mobility.
Scott Belcher, President and CEO of Intelligent Transportation Society of America, moderated a panel of cutting-edge companies whose innovative technology isn’t just an idea, but is actually deployed on the ground and transforming the way we drive in the 21st century.
Link to article here.
The wave is coming: Trade and debt will overwhelm Texas absent new funding
By Terri Hall
February 18, 2013
The eighth annual Texas Transportation Forum hosted by the Texas Transportation Institute and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) kicked off yesterday in Austin with all eyes on the future - the future of international trade in light of the Panama Canal expansion, the future of road funding, and even the future of driving (like driverless cars).
The big question the Panama Canal discussion tried to answer was whether or not Texas is ready for the coming tidal wave of trade and super-barges (and cargo that will be off-loaded onto super-trucks). The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no.’
Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc8ia96Vxgc&feature=youtube_gdata_player
The 'options' are real easy: dedicate the tax revenues we ALREADY PAY to roads. like vehicles sales tax that's going to general revenue, not to roads. That's $3 billion/yr, TxDOT needs $4 billion. So this coupled with ending gas tax diversions, which is close $1 billion, and we're there.
Texas House has ‘Gang of Five, Six or Seven’ to spearhead transportation solutions
By Rodger Jones
Dallas Morning News
February 13, 2013
Expect Texas House Speaker Joe Straus to turn to a nucleus of members versed in transportation policy to come up with and evangelize for funding solutions for highways.
One observer referred to it as the Gang of Five. One of the five told me it’s more like seven, to start with. The idea is for members to form up a package of revenue options that could be roped together into legislation. The idea also is to keep adding members to the Gang and get momentum for finding real money.
By Vianna Davila
Updated 1:13 am, Friday, February 15, 2013
Any possible expansion of Loop 1604 between Bandera Road and Interstate 35 will be on hold longer than expected because a federal environmental study could take another three years to finish, Alamo Regional Mobility Authority officials said Thursday.
The study, called an environmental impact statement, must be completed before any major construction on that part of the corridor can occur.
The Loop 1604 EIS was scheduled to be done this year but won't be finished until 2016.
The lengthy delay is based on estimates by Michael Baker Jr. Inc., the environmental consulting firm handling the study for the Alamo RMA and the Texas Department of Transportation.
Firm consultants readjusted the timeline after the Federal Highway Administration said late last month the study needed to be partly restarted because the scope of the project had changed.
The FHWA has the ultimate say over the study.
Read more here.
Washington: Group Proposes Statewide Initiative To Ban Freeway Tolls
Initiative filed in Washington state would outlaw the tolling of interstate highways.
February 14, 2013
Activists in Washington state want voters to decide whether interstate highways should ever be converted into toll roads. An initiative filed on Tuesday with the secretary of state's office would repeal provisions in state law that promote the use of tolling and force full disclosure of information on existing and proposed projects. About 330,000 signatures would be needed to guarantee the measure a spot on an upcoming ballot.
Can a miles-traveled tax finance infrastructure?
By Burgess Everett
February 6, 2013
Imagine paying into the nation’s roads and bridges based on how far you drive each year, rather than how much gasoline you consume.
That future is not far off, transportation experts and some lawmakers say. But the United States has not yet fully committed to researching a replacement for the outdated federal gasoline tax, which increasingly brings in fewer dollars relative to the trillions in investment needed for roads, rails and ports.
The main impediment thus far to a vehicle-miles-traveled fee: It’s easily cast as a policy that will bring more government intrusion and the specter of Big Brother.
TxDOT Tells Lawmakers Funding Crisis Around the Corner
By Aman Batheja
February 4, 2013
After funding billions of dollars in roadwork through debt over the last decade, the Texas Department of Transportation is two years away from a severe drop in funding unless lawmakers find more cash, agency officials said at a budget hearing Monday.
TxDOT Chairman Phil Wilson told the Senate Finance Committee that the agency is at a crucial turning point as large state bond programs are set to hit their limit by 2015.
Fewer bridge crossings hurt county’s proposed tollway
By Jared Janes
Rio Grande Monitor
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Lower than expected revenue projections for Hidalgo County’s first toll road has the highway facing another hurdle before construction.
New traffic and revenue projections for the tollway connecting the county’s international bridges to the expressway came in about 60 percent lower than initial numbers, putting the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority about $24 million short of the total financing package needed.
Of course, when politicians don't like what the traffic study shows, it calls the validity of it into question and ask for the study to be re-done until it says what they want.
Is the future of 45 Southwest tollway in doubt?
Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012
Like the Olympics, Texas legislators and Feb. 29, the question of whether to build Texas 45 Southwest seems to return every few years. It's here again, with its familiar cast of frustrated suburbanites, distressed environmentalists and wavering politicians.
Last week was supposed to feature public discussion of a definitive study of the traffic ripples that building the 3.6-mile tollway between FM 1626 and MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) would cause on nearby roads, particularly Brodie Lane. And in October, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is scheduled to vote on whether to pull Texas 45 Southwest out of the area's long-range transportation plan, which would effectively snuff the road for the foreseeable future.
Proposed road takes toll
By Joseph Hamrick
January 9, 2013
GREENVILLE — Wanting more information and time to look over the proposed resolution, the Hunt County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to table the proposal for the Texas Turnpike Corporation (TTC) to construct a toll road along the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX) right-of-way between Greenville and Lavon in Collin County.
“A lot of decisions in life can’t be made in two years,” Philip A. Martin, precinct 3 commissioner said. “And we can’t make one in two hours. I want to acquire more information and to look into the wordage on the resolution before making a vote.”
Link to article here.
Texas risks losing $31 million in federal transportation funding
Posted Friday, Aug. 17, 2012
By Gordon Dickson, Star-Telegram
IRVING - More than $473 million in funds earmarked years ago by Congress for transportation projects remains unspent -- including nearly $31 million in Texas -- and federal officials on Friday declared that states have until the end of the year to spend the money or risk losing it.
"There are a lot of crumbling roads, crumbling bridges, crumbling transit projects. We're ready to put the money to work now," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during a news conference call. "There is pent up demand to fix infrastructure."
Texas officials, several of whom were attending the Transportation and Infrastructure Summit Friday in Irving, said the move by Washington wouldn't have a major impact on ongoing road work in the region -- although a list of earmarks published Friday by the U.S. Transportation Department included relatively small amounts of money for a handful of major projects in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
U.S. keeps building new highways while letting old ones crumble
By Curtis Tate and Greg Gordon
February 3, 2013
WASHINGTON -- Oil-rich Texas has built more highways and bridges than any other state, but over the next two decades it will fall $170 billion short of what it needs to keep the sprawling network in good repair.
In California, transportation officials estimate that 60 percent of the state’s roads and a quarter of its bridges need to be repaired or replaced, at a projected cost of $70 billion over a decade, some $52 billion more than the available funds.
When dollar signs are involved, even TxDOT will cram toll lanes inside medians and takeover shoulders putting safety at risk to make a buck. Not only is the Virginia DOT ignoring these facts on its I-95 project, the Central Texas Mobility Authority is also ignoring this TTI study when it will squeeze toll lanes on MoPac in Austin, requiring 9 safety design exceptions to do it.
Texas Study Finds Wider Highways Safer, Virginia Narrows Roads
Texas Transportation Institute concludes wider roads are safer, while Virginia narrows lanes so it can impose tolls on Interstate 95.
August 15, 2012
An forthcoming study by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) found highway widening projects increased safety in the Lone Star State. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) tasked TTI to evaluate a broad range of safety improvements undertaken by the agency, but researchers decided to offer a preview last week of one of TxDOT's most effective programs.
"The agency's roadway widening initiative has been a tremendous success, both for increasing safety on Texas highways and potentially saving billions of dollars associated with fatal crashes and sustained injuries," TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said in a statement.
A total of 1159 miles of highway shoulders were added to narrow, two-lane highways. A comparison of accident rates three years before the improvements and three years after showed fatalities were reduced by an average of 44 per year, according to TTI. Another TxDOT project spent spent $29 million on 37 widening projects that yielded an average reduction of five fatalities per year.
A similar study by the University of California published in 2008 concluded, "Collision rates diminish with an increase in shoulder width" (view study). Given the results, TxDOT said it would continue widening roads.
Virginia, on the other hand, just signed a $1 billion project to narrow lanes on Interstate 95 between Garrisonville and Edsall road outside Alexandria. Governor Bob McDonnell (R) last week held a groundbreaking ceremony for the conversion of the I-95 high-occupancy vehicle lanes into a toll road owned by the Australian firm Transurban. Three reversible toll lanes will be squeezed into the space that currently provides two reversible lanes that are twelve feet wide with generous ten-foot shoulders on each side. This will be done by narrowing the lanes to eleven feet wide with shoulders narrowed in some areas to just two feet on one side and nine feet on the other.
The project includes provisions for expanded bus service using the lanes. A typical transit bus is 8.5 feet wide, with side-view mirrors extending another foot in each direction, leaving just half-an-inch of space. A 1996 Transportation Research board study recommended traffic lanes used by buses should be no narrower than twelve feet wide.
Perry solicits ideas for tax relief, grassroots say nix toll taxes
By Terri Hall
January 29, 2013
In his State of the State speech today, Texas Governor Rick Perry asked Texans how they'd like to see tax relief implemented in the current legislative session. Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF) and other taxpayer groups called for eliminating toll taxes and using our existing road taxes, currently being diverted to other purposes, to expand our freeways without tolls. The Governor's web site, http://www.gov.texas.gov has no option for toll tax relief.
Perry did announce his support for ending gas tax diversions for non-road purposes. Ending diversions is part of the Governor's truth in taxation plank in his Budget Compact, which means taxes collected for a certain purpose should go only to that purpose. Perry's leadership to end gas tax diversions, estimated to be $1.3 billion per biennium, is much needed and very helpful. But that alone isn't sufficient to properly fund our state highways without higher taxes -- tolls.
Link to article here.
While we like Sen. Robert Nichols' bill, we love Rep. Linda Harper-Brown's bill, HB 479, better because it moves the vehicles sales tax money over to roads quicker. We can't wait 10 more years to properly fund our state highway system and end the practice of tolling everything, which is a $2,000-$3,000/yr hike in the average commuter's taxes.
Texas' top transportation lawmakers pick vehicle sales tax as preferred way to boost highway fund
By Tom Benning
Dallas Morning News
January 30, 2013
Texas’ top transportation lawmakers have now made official their preferred method for infusing the Texas Department of Transportation’s highway fund with much-needed cash.
Robert Nichols and Larry Phillips — the chairmen of the state Senate and House transportation committees, respectively — jointly filed bills Monday to dedicate to TxDOT the 6.25 percent sales tax levied on new and used vehicle purchases.
Electric car fees considered
By Aman Batheja
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Owning an electric car in Texas could become more expensive under one proposal being considered by state lawmakers to raise money for road construction. Increasing registration fees on owners of electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf is “one of the options on the table,” according to state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, who was vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee last legislative session.
Various transportation-minded lawmakers have said they are set on finding a reliable stream of revenue for transportation this session. Most of the current funding comes from the 38.4 cents in state and federal taxes Texans pay per gallon of gas, an amount that has not been raised in 20 years and has failed to keep up with inflation and the increasing fuel efficiency of new vehicles.
Link to article here.
We agree that the State must get back to funding the core Constitutional functions of government, but funding core functions and cuts in spending and tax relief are not mutually exclusive.
Speaker says Texas needs more than tax cuts
January 28, 2013
AUSTIN, TX -- Texas needs more than tax cuts to thrive and will require investments in education, infrastructure and water to keep growing, House Speaker Joe Straus told the Texas Association of Broadcasters on Monday.
The San Antonio Republican said the state's rapidly growing population and economy means the state must spend more on what he called the government's core responsibilities. The speaker oversees the Texas House and sets the legislative agenda.
Industry group says S.A. roads in need
By Vianna Davila
Friday, January 18, 2013
Five of the state's 50 worst transportation problems are in San Antonio, according to a report released Thursday by a transportation research group whose study also suggests one of those corridors should be expanded to include toll lanes.
Two of the San Antonio corridors named in the report — Interstate 35 between Loop 410 and FM 3009, and Loop 410 from U.S. 281 to I-35 — were in the top five statewide, according to TRIP, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit funded by the insurance, construction and engineering industries. The report ranked 100 so-called transportation challenges, looking at everything from congested roads to deteriorating bridges.
Read more: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/local_news/article/Industry-group-says-S-A-roads-in-need-4203736.php#ixzz2Jl2Fpz3h
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