Other Voices

Tell Texas lawmakers to ‘Keep the Promise’ on highway funding

Texans voted in 2015 to allocate a portion of sales tax revenue for projects to relieve traffic congestion.
Texans voted in 2015 to allocate a portion of sales tax revenue for projects to relieve traffic congestion. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Texas voters overwhelming approved the allocation of a small portion of sales tax revenue for roads (Prop. 7) in a 2015 election.

Their 83 percent support sent a clear message to invest more of our resources on roads and bridges to make highways safer and to address ever-growing traffic congestion.

Now, Texas legislators are considering a measure to pull back more than $2 billion of this incremental highway funding even before this new funding begins to flow.

Doing so would completely disregard the voters.

It’s time to remind our elected officials in the Texas Capitol to “Keep the Promise.”

Gov. Greg Abbott had a clever TV campaign spot in which he parked his wheelchair alongside typical traffic gridlock and showed that he could move faster than the vehicles alongside him on the highway.

Abbott has made congestion relief a priority.

The Texas Transportation Commission recently allocated $2.5 billion for the Texas Clear Lanes Initiative to do just that, including $808 million for the Dallas and Fort Worth area.

Relief projects across the state are in the pipeline, but their construction will be delayed if Texas legislators reduce the dedicated road money that voters previously approved.

Texas Clear Lanes projects for the Dallas-Fort Worth area involve $438 million to reconstruct portions of I-635 in Dallas County and $370 million to reconstruct the Texas 121 interchanges with I-635 and FM 2499 in northeast Tarrant County.

These projects could be delayed if lawmakers cut Prop 7 funding.

We can’t afford to wait.

The Texas population is growing by more than 1,000 people each day.

More people means more traffic.

Urban congestion will get even worse, and rural highways will be even harder to maintain with less money.

Our big cities will continue to experience exceptional growth over the next 35 years.

Demographers are projecting the following population increases by 2050:

Austin, 160 percent

Dallas-Fort Worth, 130 percent

Houston, 125 percent

San Antonio, 85 percent

Motorists will spend even more time stuck in traffic.

The cost to transport food and goods to stores will increase with longer shipping times.

Road safety is a constant priority, as approximately 3,500 people are killed each year on Texas roads.

For decades, the gasoline tax has been the major funding source for bridge and highway construction and maintenance.

Texas has not increased the gas tax in 26 years.

We have borrowed billions of dollars and built more toll roads to keep going.

But we need to invest $5 billion a year more on roads simply to keep traffic congestion at 2010 levels, according to the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.

Texas voters have amended the state constitution in recent elections to nearly close that gap.

But we continue to face extreme mobility challenges.

It does not make sense to undermine the voters’ strong preference to address our congestion and road problems, especially with nearly $12 billion expected to be sitting in our Rainy Day Fund at the end of the next budget cycle.

These discussions to cut billions in highway funding need to stop.

Texas voters overwhelmingly are counting on them.

The Legislature needs to keep its promise to improve mobility and safety for Texas drivers.

Please take a few minutes to ask your representatives to Keep the Promise.

Walter Mischer Jr. and Jere W. Thompson Jr. co-chair the Texas Transportation Alliance, is a coalition of business leaders across Texas who believe that transportation improvements are crucial to maintaining the competitiveness, meeting environmental standards and preserving the quality of life of Texans.