TxDOT Diverts Money from Road Maintenance

TexPIRG Education Fund

AUSTIN – Drivers in Texas pay an extra $336 per year on car repairs due to highways and bridges in disrepair.

A new report released today by Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Road Work Ahead, strongly criticized politicians and policies that favor building new roadways while neglecting existing bridges and roads.

The report notes that car owners in Texas spend $336 per year in additional repair and operating costs due to the poor quality of roads, a figure that reaches $529 per year for car owners in the San Antonio area. Fifty-two percent of the Texas’ roads are in less than good condition and 1,752 of the state’s bridges and major overpasses are structurally deficient. An analysis of Texas’ past years’ spending of federal transportation spending (2006-2008) shows that Texas directed almost three times as many dollars – about $720 million annually – toward new and wider road construction compared to repair of bridges and overpasses.

“This report calls into question our nation’s transportation priorities,” said Melissa Cubria, TexPIRG Advocate. “It is a waste of scarce resources to continue spending billions on new highways while existing roadways need repair.  It’s like adding a guest room on your home when the roof is leaking.”

According to testimony given at a joint hearing between the House Committee on Transportation and the Senate Committee on Transportation and Homeland Security on February 1, 2010, Deirdre Delisi, Chair of the Texas Transportation Commission, stated that in November 2009, the commission, voted to establish target levels of funding for the 2010 to 2020 period that anticipated making funding available for mobility by reducing funds spent on needed maintenance.

According to copies of her written testimony obtained by TexPIRG, the commission decided to reduce funds available for needed maintenance resulting in the further declines in the condition of the state’s pavements and bridges. According to the new TexPIRG report Road Work Ahead,  this poor transportation policy decision is costing Texans.

The report places the blame on powerful special interests and perverse state and federal policies. It points out that, by and large, states generally award major new construction contracts to outside contractors, many of whom lobby for such projects. Routine maintenance and repairs, by contrast, tend to be performed by in-house staff who lack outside influence. Politicians can be susceptible to these pressures because they garner positive political attention from ribbon cuttings for new projects, and mainly hear complaints about closing roads for repair and maintenance, according to the report.

Recently, the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) released the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for a proposed project to add four additional traffic lanes to the 290 corridor and fix the 610 / 290 / I-10 interchange. TXDOT states that the project will require the use of eminent domain to take 366 properties to acquire right-of-way to build these additional lanes.

According to Terri Hall, “Lawmakers have neglected to properly prioritize transportation funding for decades and it’s catching up to us. They think they can fix the problem with oppressive new toll taxes, but that has created a debt bomb and fueled yet more misplaced priorities with taxpayer money. It’s past time we completely re-think transportation funding in Texas.”

“Texas should establish strong fix-it-first policies that ensure that no funds are wasted on new projects until we’ve cleared our backlog of needed repair,” said Cubria.