New Study: Red Flags in Texas’ Transportation Stimulus Wish List

TxDOT Shortchanges Crumbling Infrastructure, Public Transportation, and Long-Term Economic Vitality

TexPIRG Education Fund

AUSTIN—A new study of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) wish list, recently submitted to Congress for funding under a new economic recovery package, suggests that Texas’ current project list would undermine efforts to repair and modernize our deteriorating infrastructure and reduce U.S. dependence on oil.

The study also shows that President-elect Obama’s stated intention to invest in a modernized infrastructure that will create jobs and build a clean, smarter economy for the 21st century could be undermined if the TxDOT spends transportation stimulus funds the way it has suggested in its wish list to Congress.

“We can both create jobs and rebuild our economy in the short term in a way that helps to solve our long-term energy challenges,” said Melissa Cubria at Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG) “We can’t afford to waste precious resources on new highways at the expense of ready-to-go projects to repair and maintain existing roads and bridges and expand rail and other forms of public transportation.”

The report shows that TxDOT’s wish list to Congress would divert 57 percent of road money to new or wider highways rather than fixing the backlog of structurally deficient roads and bridges. It would allocate only 2 percent of funds to public transit or rail projects.

“Given Texas’ struggles to find local funds to make possible greatly desired transit and rail projects, federal stimulus funds should be an opportunity to jump start our transportation future,” said Cubria. “Instead this looks like just more spending on outdated priorities.”

The report documents why it is critically important how stimulus infrastructure money is spent. Misguided transportation polices of the past have contributed to many of America’s most pressing problems. Each year the average American living in an urban area spends 38 hours – nearly a full work week – stuck in traffic delays. Transportation has become the second biggest expense for the average household – even more than health care and just behind housing costs.  Our transportation system is the chief source of the nation’s oil dependency. And vehicles are the biggest end-user source of global warming pollution, contributing to a third of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Fixing aging bridges and speeding up road maintenance is a faster way to create jobs and stimulate the economy than building more highway capacity,” stated Melissa Cubria. “It makes no sense to build new roads that increase our addiction to oil when you can create jobs, meet growing demand for public transportation and reduce oil consumption by funding transit operations and getting far-sighted transit projects off the drawing board and into action.”

The 19-state study examines available state Department of Transportation wish lists sent to Congress as part of the development of the next economic recovery package. The 19 state transportation lists for “ready-to-go” projects indicate that:

  • Despite increasing transit ridership nationwide, on average, the states would spend only seventeen percent of funds on public transit or intercity rail projects. Seven of the sixteen states would allocate 1 percent or less to transit or intercity rail, including four that would allocate nothing at all.
  • In spite of hundreds of billions of dollars in backlogged maintenance and repair for crumbling infrastructure, more than half of transportation funds would flow to highway projects to build new or wider highways. A third of states would spend less than a quarter of road funds to protect and restore existing bridges and roads.

The report calls on Congress, the Obama Administration, and state leaders to apply the following principles to the writing and implementation of the next federal economic recovery legislation: (1) Highways should receive no more funds than the combined total for public transit, intercity rail, and bicycle and pedestrian projects; (2) Any road funds should go first to maintenance and repair of structurally deficient bridges and roads, not new highways or lanes; (3) Public transportation funds should include support for operations so agencies can accommodate rising demand. (4) Surface Transportation Program highway funds should be distributed as under current law so that a portion of resources flow directly to metropolitan areas that know best about which local projects are needed; (5) All states, cities, and agencies should publicly disclose the stimulus lists they have submitted; (6) Direct recipients of stimulus funds should report on how money was spent and any transportation spending that it displaced.

“Texas Lawmakers sent a clear message to TxDOT last month when they dramatically changed the state agency, getting rid the 5 appointed Commissioners and replacing them with a single, new Commissioner for the next four years,” Cubria said. “Now it’s time for TxDOT to dramatically change their obsolete wish list to Congress.”

Read the full report here.