December 4, 2008
I want to do something a little different this morning.
Senator John Carona and I wrote an editorial a couple of weeks back about the transportation challenges facing Texas and ways to approach them. Senator Carona chairs the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, on which I’m the vice chair. And, yes, he’s a Republican, and I’m a Democrat.
The editorial’s been pretty well-received – it ran over the last few days in every major newspaper in Texas. I think it’s a forceful, bipartisan statement of how significant these challenges are and how we should approach them.
The editorial describes the tough choices that the Legislature’s going to have to make to deal with this issue. But perhaps more significantly, it demonstrates that we’ll need bipartisan action and commitment to get it done.
The editorial’s below. I’m also linking to some other significant news stories concerning climate change, the state’s finances, and road safety issues that have appeared over the last few days.
Texas highways were once the pride of the state – and justifiably so. Our extensive infrastructure allowed farmers and ranchers to feed the state and the world, and it turned our cities into economic powerhouses. Our transportation networks helped Texans charge into a prosperous future without having to catch up with the present.
But for a generation, the state has approached old and new transportation challenges in a very different way. We have struggled simply to keep up with our needs. This has left Texas at a critical intersection, and the choices that the Legislature makes over the next several months will determine both how we live in the short term and what opportunities our children will inherit.
Texas now faces a transportation crisis. We spend more and more of our lives in traffic instead of with our families. We seldom, if ever, see major roads built without tollbooths. And the rail lines and highway lane miles we know we need are being scaled back or scrapped in the face of a hopeless inability to pay for them.
It is only becoming harder to address these needs. The costs of concrete, steel and other basic road building materials have risen by 60 percent over the last five years. However, the state motor fuels tax – our primary source of transportation funding – has been frozen at 20 cents per gallon since 1991. The disparity has left the state facing 21st Century challenges with a 20th Century tool.
In January, the 81st Texas Legislature will begin weighing opportunities to make a meaningful investment in transportation. Here are alternatives that we believe the state must explore:
These changes will not be easy, and they will confound the frequent promises of something-for-nothing. But they are necessary if we are to address the needs we see every day at rush hour – challenges that will only become greater. Our children must not be the first generation of Texans to inherit an inadequate transportation infrastructure with nowhere to grow.
And here are links to recent articles about: