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Texas highways to get record funding, comptroller estimate shows

A wreck on Interstate 35W stops traffic in December. The Texas Department of Transportation is forecast to receive a record $25.4 billion for highways and other projects during the next two years, according to the state comptroller’s office.
A wreck on Interstate 35W stops traffic in December. The Texas Department of Transportation is forecast to receive a record $25.4 billion for highways and other projects during the next two years, according to the state comptroller’s office. rmallison@star-telegram.com

While most parts of Texas government are tightening their belts, the state’s highways and other transportation projects are getting a boost.

Texas is expected to generate a record $25.4 billion in revenue for roads, bridges and other components of the transportation system during the next two years, according to estimates released Monday by the state comptroller’s office.

Transportation money typically comes mostly from taxes paid at the pump on gasoline and diesel fuel, as well as annual registration fees paid by car owners for their windshield stickers. But in recent years, elected leaders and voters statewide have opted to infuse dollars from the state’s general fund for transportation projects, too.

The Texas Department of Transportation is expected to get $12.8 billion next year and $12.6 billion in 2019 for highways, bridges and other mobility projects. If the estimates are accurate, the revenue likely would be more than the state has ever received specifically for transportation, officials said. The annual amounts are more than double what was spent annually on transportation projects a decade ago.

The $12.8 billion in revenue Texas is expected to receive for transportation in 2018 is more than triple the $3.6 billion received in 2007, according to state records.

For comparison, the agency’s latest report shows that in fiscal year 2016, which ended Sept. 30, the transportation department had $8.7 billion in revenue from taxes, fees and other government sources. The agency also had $2.2 billion from outside sources, including bonds and the sale of capital assets.

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Glenn Hegar, in his introductory letter to the report, explained to legislators that a key reason why the state’s revenue projections for government as a whole in 2018-19 declined 2.7 percent from the last legislative session was that more money is heading to the highways.

“If not for the new constitutional provision dedicating up to $5 billion in biennial sales tax revenue to the State Highway Fund starting in fiscal 2018-19, projected funds available for general-purpose spending for 2018-19 would be $109.6 billion, 1.7 percent greater than in 2016-17,” Hegar wrote.

The comptroller typically releases a report forecasting state revenue at the start of the Legislature’s regular session, giving elected leaders a blueprint of how much money state government likely will have at its disposal as it sets out to fund each agency.

Supporters of transportation say the infusion of dollars is long overdue. For much of the past 15 years, the Transportation Department dealt with a chronic funding shortage, allowing bridges to fall into disrepair and leading to toll-road projects to generate revenue.

A handful of recent actions by Texas voters has made the transportation picture a bit rosier.

In November 2015, voters statewide overwhelmingly approved Proposition 7, a state constitutional amendment to dedicate money from the general sales and use tax and car sales and rental taxes to the highway fund for non-tolled projects. The amendment was worded so that transportation projects would receive the funds only as sales-tax revenues grew, and after the state’s general fund received its traditional sums.

Also, voters in November 2014 approved a state constitutional amendment known as Proposition 1, which allowed some of the state’s rainy-day fund, generated mostly by taxes on oil and gas production, to go toward highways. That fund is expected to generate about $1.2 billion annually for road projects.

In 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott said transportation funding was one of five emergency items for the state to address.

A $12-billion high-speed rail system could transform transportation in the Lone Star State.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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