I wish Texas could build freeways like it was 1960. Okay, so in 1960 I was only six years old and lived in New Mexico, so Texas freeways were not a priority for me at the time. However, in the 1960s Washington paid for a great deal of infrastructure in our state — with the exception of the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike — and the idea of tolls on freeways was thought to be very “un-Texan.”
But things change. Today Washington has other priorities – and so do Texas lawmakers. Back in 1960 one- third of the Texas budget went to transportation. Today it is closer to 10 percent. However, last year Texas added almost 400,000 residents and almost as many vehicles. The overwhelming majority of those 400,000 new residents moved to urban areas.
With these statistics in mind, I’m sure you can imagine how huge the Texas highway funding gap has become. Every funding tool is needed to ease urban gridlock and still modernize and increase safety on the state’s vast system of busy connecting highways.
Faced with this reality, pure toll roads like Houston’s Grand Parkway, State Highway 130 in Central Texas, Fort Worth’s Chisholm Trail Tollway, and the Dallas area’s President George Bush Turnpike were built. Although a lukewarm response to the glaring transportation issue, it is important to have a plan for what’s needed to rebuild our existing roads like Houston’s State Highway 288 South Freeway, Fort Worth’s I-35W, DFW’s Airport Freeway and Austin’s MoPac— which are all over 50 years old.
Photo credit: http://www.jbsa.mil/News/Art/igphoto/2001727008/
The pragmatic funding response was optional tolled managed lanes. These roads have been rebuilt in part with borrowed funds backed by toll revenues. This means construction can be done now instead of later and a reduction in tax dependency.
Most importantly, this is a user paid system which gives drivers a choice – a choice of a reliable drive time to pick up a child, get to the airport or make a business appointment or a delivery on time. Tolled express lanes are about quality of life and a lot of Texans have grown to love them.
So what does adding toll roads back in the highway construction toolbox have to do with Nacogdoches? I take frequent trips to Austin and toll roads are my preferred route, because of a lack of congestion and higher speed limits. But let’s face it, there is not a single highway in Nacogdoches County that is toll viable. The traffic volumes simply are not what they need to be to finance an I-69, or other roadways in Nacogdoches County.
However, with the Governor’s call to reduce urban gridlock, toll roads can play a major funding role for Texas’ future if we actively advocate for this solution with lawmakers. If we don’t place toll roads back in the toolbox that means less money to go around. While connectivity is important to urban and rural areas, when you count votes in the legislature, rural areas like Nacogdoches come up short. Toll roads mean urban areas get to address gridlock ‘now,’ freeing up monies to assure our great state is connected via a robust highway infrastructure.
Please join me in encouraging our State Representatives to support making toll roads an important part of our Texas highways.
Jim Jeffers is serving his 15th year as City Manager for the City of Nacogdoches. Jeffers has over 40 years experience as city manager in three different cities. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Public Administration and a Masters of Political Science from West Texas A&M University and is a Certified Public Manager.
Jim and his wife Gwendolyn have 5 children and 10 grandchildren.