Texas officials are working hard to maintain our roadways and public transit systems, but long-term funding for transportation from Congress is stuck in political traffic, delaying vital state projects and risking thousands of jobs.
Congestion in major Texas cities resulted in drivers wasting more than 274 million gallons of fuel and nearly 612 million extra hours — or 43 per driver — last year, according to Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute. Statewide losses totaled over $14 billion.
Moreover, the state’s public transit systems, which support over 200 million passenger trips every year, are in trouble. A recent report from the American Society of Civil Engineers graded our transportation infrastructure an embarrassing C+.
The problem is the legislative jam in Washington.
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Congress hasn’t passed a transportation bill lasting more than two years since 2005. Instead, federal funding for transportation has come in the form of over 30 short-term extensions, the most recent of which will expire on Friday.
Both houses are trying to break the jam. The Senate and House recently proposed transportation bills that aim to provide transportation funding for the next six years.
Congress members should move quickly to secure this funding. Texas alone stands to lose $3.8 billion a year in federal funding, amounting to 44 percent of the state’s transportation budget.
That will jeopardize the thousands of businesses and workers that depend on a robust transportation network. Texan firms specializing in transportation design and construction work directly employ over 358,000 people.
Transportation is also a powerful economic multiplier. Multiple studies have shown that for every $1 invested in public transportation, $4 in economic activity is generated.
Jobs are generated, too. Investing $1 billion in public transportation would create an additional 36,000 jobs.
Likewise, transportation spending supports job growth across industries, from retail to agriculture to manufacturing. In Texas, transportation has helped create 5 million jobs, contributing an estimated $43.6 billion to our economy each year.
Investing in transportation would provide a particularly big boost to small and medium-sized businesses. That’s because the construction and engineering services required to complete transportation projects provide subcontracting opportunities for smaller companies.
So, more investment would give such businesses an opportunity to be part of new projects and bolster their bottom lines.
What’s more, as many goods are transported to or through Texas by surrounding states, revamping the state’s infrastructure would spur regional economic development.
Texas’s transportation system helped lay the foundation for decades of economic growth and prosperity. If people and goods cannot travel safely and quickly across our state, Texas will lose businesses and jobs to other states and regions.
Public transit and highway construction projects can take years to finish. For Texas to continue to make investments in infrastructure and our people, it needs the assurance of a long-term transportation commitment from the federal level.
Our state’s congressional representatives should support a long-term transportation bill.
Hugh Harrison is the principal of Legacy Resource Group, a Dallas based management consulting firm that provides services to clients in the public transportation industry. He is also the former chairman of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Board of Directors.