Texas running out of  money to build new highways

By Sen. Robert Nichols and Rep. Joe Pickett

We take driving for granted as we climb into the car or pick-up truck and go. Most Texans don’t know how much they pay in state gas tax when they fill up – or that the gas tax has not increased in 23 years. Most Texans don’t realize borrowed money ($20 billion) has financed most of our highway construction during the past decade. 

 Unless we act, money for new highway construction runs out by 2016, and the only available funding will go for debt payment and some road maintenance. Next year, for the first time in Texas history, the Texas Department of Transportation will spend more money on debt payments than on new roads and bridges.

Texans can make a critical investment in our state’s economic future and safety of the traveling public by supporting Proposition 1 in the Nov. 4 election. Proposition 1 represents the single largest revenue increase to the State Highway Fund in Texas history with a projected $1.7 billion a year. This measure will provide much needed funding for our state’s aging and congested transportation system and will do so without raising taxes, charging new fees or using tolls.

With the Texas population growing by approximately 1,200 people every day, the demand on our infrastructure has increased significantly. From our health care system to our schools, Texas must plan for our future growth if we wish to continue our economic success.

 A viable transportation system has been the life blood of trade and the growth of striving communities. A well planned and maintained transportation system gets your business’s goods to market, gets you to work on time, and provides a safe commute when you take your kids to school. 

The state’s main funding sources for transportation are a federal gas tax, a state gas tax and a state vehicle registration fee. The state gas tax has not been adjusted since 1991 and vehicle registration fees have not significantly changed since 1987. Since that time, due to inflation, the cost of building and maintaining roads and bridges has increased over 150 percent.

In order to keep up with Texas’ growing road preservation needs and congestion relief demands we have borrowed close to $2 billion a year over the last decade. The credit card is maxed out. 

Studies indicate we need to invest $5 billion more per year for highways simply to maintain current traffic congestion. We need a very big solution. If passed, Proposition 1 will help solve part of the problem by constitutionally dedicating a portion of the state’s oil and gas severance tax to the State Highway Fund. Texas has been blessed with booming oil and gas activity over recent years and will for many more to come. Texas collects billions in revenue every year from the oil and gas industry, and Proposition 1 asks you to dedicate a portion of this revenue to a core function of government:  a safe and dependable transportation system.

Not only will Proposition 1 represent the single largest revenue increase to the State Highway Fund in Texas history, with approximately $1.7 billion a year, we will also see the same amount transferred to our state’s savings account. This will keep a healthy balance for emergencies and secure our strong financial ranking. The money will be fairly distributed through existing formulas among the state’s 25 highway districts.

Roads are expensive, but borrowing and delaying projects will cost much more. We must provide a sustainable revenue source for the future demands on our roads and bridges. Proposition 1 will improve congestion, save time and save lives. 

Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, serves as Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and previously spent eight years on the Texas Transportation Commission. Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, serves as Chairman of the House Select Committee on Transportation Funding.