Texas roads could very well be filled with driverless cars and trucks — or vehicles with other revolutionary technology — in the next few decades.
A top state transportation planner said he is keeping that in mind even as he and others try to prepare enough highways, roads and other infrastructure to handle current motorists and the millions more expected in a predicted population boom.
“In 1991, the Texas Legislature said, ‘You’re not the Texas Highway Department anymore,’ ” Joe Weber, executive director of the Texas Department of Transportation, told nearly 200 people gathered Friday for a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Petroleum Club. “You’re the Department of Transportation, and we still will build many roads and highways.
“But transportation now is truly a system … and it all has to be linked,” he said. “We’ve got to be changing our culture and approaching this problem as a system.”
The good news, he told the crowd at the chamber’s Leaders in Government Series, is that officials now have a little funding to work with — thanks to Texas voters.
On Nov. 4, nearly 80 percent of voters approved Proposition 1, a proposed constitutional amendment that sets aside part of the state’s oil and gas revenue for road and bridge improvements. That could total $1.7 billion in the first year and $1.2 billion a year on average in future years.
“Additional roadway funding will be used to address congestion, maintain the state’s system in a safe manner and repair roads affected by activity in the energy sector,” according to a statement from the Transportation Department noting that no Proposition 1 funds will be used on toll roads.
This week, Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Texas Council of Governments, told Fort Worth leaders that the Metroplex should pick up as much as $400 million a year for transportation needs through this proposition.
Now, Weber said, state lawmakers heading back to work Jan. 13 for the next 140-day legislative session need to make “some hard decisions” because there are far more transportation needs than dollars — even with Proposition 1.
“Texas is going to continue to look at sources of funding,” Weber said. “We do have to continue planning for the future.”
That includes looking at technology and what new trends might be coming.
“We, as a state … need to be in the lead researching what’s coming,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, it’s coming.”