In the face of a financial crisis from the coronavirus and falling energy prices, and with transportation needs already outpacing the state budget, El Paso area business and community leaders Monday urged state lawmakers to explore innovative funding sources to build and improve highways and bridges in Texas.
El Paso Chamber leaders joined the Texas Association of Business (TAB) for the El Paso launch of Keep Texas Moving, a coalition to support innovative infrastructure investment in Texas to spur economic recovery, create jobs and build a better transportation system, while leaving taxpayer dollars available for other essential spending priorities.
“The El Paso Chamber and our newly created Mobility Coalition agree 100% that it’s time for Texas to once again be open to private investment and other tools to fund needed roads and bridges,” said David Jerome of the El Paso Chamber.
“El Paso is a critical North American trade and commecial hub as the 10th largest inland port and 20,000 trucks using our stretch of I-10 each day. State leaders should resauthorize public-private partnership investment and allow local leasders to find innovative ways to improve transportation funding and stimulate needed economic recovery.”
Because of COVID-19 and depressed energy prices, all of the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) primary funding sources are currently suffering, including oil severance taxes, motor vehicle sales taxes and gasoline tax revenues.
Texas Comptroller Hegar recently announced an expected budget shortfall of nearly $5 billion when lawmakers reconvene in January 2021.
The pandemic hit tax revenues hard across the board, especially those revenues funding TxDOT and transportation, including motor vehicle sales and oil and gas severance tax. Oil and gas severance taxes flowing into TxDOT’s State Highway Fund are estimated to drop by almost half in the near future, the Comptroller said.
“El Paso residents and business leaders know that transportation improvements are critical to our state’s safety, economic opportunity and quality of life, stimulate job growth and can speed our economic recovery from the COVID and energy crises that continue to ravage our entire economy,” said Aaron Cox, Senior Vice President of the Texas Association of Business.
“That’s why it’s time that Texas again look to the private sector, public-private partnerships and solutions like optional toll lanes to address the serious funding shortfall facing our state’s transportation system.”
“Allowing private investment for major highway development would offset state revenue losses and could allow available Texas tax dollars to be spent in other critical areas such as Medicaid, public safety and public education,” Cox continued.
Texas voters support these efforts. TAB released the results of a public opinion survey of 502 Texas voters by Morning Consult that found:
- 84% of Texas voters believe it is very or somewhat important for Texas leaders to address infrastructure next year. Texans trust state or local governments (42%) more than the federal government (22%) to handle infrastructure.
- When informed about transportation issues:
- 72% of Texas voters support public-private partnerships as a way to fund highway and other infrastructure projects;
- 71% of voters said that giving drivers the option to get to their destinations more quickly by paying a toll is an important benefit of a public-private partnership;
- 82% of voters agree that using public-private partnerships will free up public funds for other government programs; and
- 94% said the most important outcome of public-private partnerships is increasing local jobs.
The survey was conducted for TAB by Morning Consult, a global data intelligence firm, on June 1-5, 2020, and has a margin of error of ± 4%.
Although TxDOT is not currently authorized to use private financing, Texas lawmakers have embraced these funding sources in the past, including during the early 2000s recession and the 2008 financial crisis, to improve Texas roads at little or no cost to Texas taxpayers.
Prior to 2017, the state authorized the private sector to design, build, manage and maintain billions of dollars’ worth of new highways, creating new jobs and alleviating traffic gridlock for hundreds of thousands of Texas motorists across the state.
Texas’ growth and need for better infrastructure is well-documented. According to demographic and census data:
- Texas will grow by 12 million people in the next 20 years, from 29 million today to more than 40 million by 2040. Our economy is expected to double by 2050.
- Each day, Texas adds more than 1,000 new people and hundreds of vehicles to our roadways.
- According to U.S. Census data released in 2019, among the top 15 cities with the highest growth rate, about half were in Texas.
TAB’s Aaron Cox noted that Texas leaders have gone above and beyond to identify and implement new transportation resources in recent years. However, the need is still outstripping available funding, Cox said, noting that the current 10-year state transportation budget would need to nearly double by 2050 to keep pace with population projections.
According to recent Texas reports:
- Roadway congestion is now at its worst level since the Texas A&M Transportation Institute began tracking traffic congestion in its Urban Mobility Report in the early 1980s.
- Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2019 ranking of Texas’ most congested roadways illustrates a familiar theme — growth-induced traffic gridlock is getting worse every year. Dallas’ Woodall Rodgers Freeway is among the state’s most gridlocked roadways.
“TAB’s Keep Texas Moving coalition is all about fixing Texas roads and creating jobs while harnessing the power of the private sector to help pay for needed transportation improvements,” Cox concluded.
For more information, visit Keep Texas Moving.