Funding shortfall due to TxDOT's failure to fund priorities

April 25, 2018

Conservative Grassroots Leaders say,

“Highway-funding shortfall problem is TxDOT’s own making.”

Governor, lawmakers need to demand accountability first

Austin, TX - A Texas-sized highway-funding problem is heating up, and three grassroots groups who lead a statewide coalition of anti-toll road activists who support the “no more toll roads – no more debt” policies of Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick are fighting well-funded, toll-loving special interests.

Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), Texans for Toll-free Highways PAC, and Grassroots America - We the People PAC contend the much-lamented funding shortfall is largely due to the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) bloat and mismanagement of funds. While metropolitan areas scramble to re-allocate funds to advance projects without tolls, as Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick directed last November, the anti-toll groups argue TxDOT intentionally squandered the nearly $5 billion a year in new funding on low priority projects so they could force toll roads on urban commuters.

The grassroots groups say this is a systemic problem identified in the 2016 Sunset Commission Staff Report  which states, “As currently structured, TxDOT’s project development process is not meeting expectations and is not prepared to effectively handle the influx of new transportation funding projected to double over the next decade. TxDOT has not met key on-time or on-budget measures for several years, indicating underlying problems with the department’s management of its project portfolio through complex steps including environmental review, design, and right-of-way acquisition.”

Even more concerning, the one recommendation the Sunset Staff recommended that was not adopted by either TxDOT or the legislature was the one to “require TxDOT to revise its approach to distributing transportation funding to better align with established priorities and performance goals.”

JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America and Terri Hall of TURF and Texans for Toll-Free Highways say that until these deficiencies in the Texas Department of Transportation are cured, “It is foolish to think we’ll ever see better decision-making or results.”

Hall and Fleming point out that the passage of House Bill 20 in 2015 should have addressed TxDOT’s perpetual failure to allocate funding to the state’s 100 Most Congested Roads by forcing the agency to implement project scoring and performance measurements that ensure objective data, not politics, guide the agency’s project selection process.

“The Transportation Commission’s current process for determining how much money to allocate to different statewide transportation goals tends to favor horse trading among various interests more than consideration of performance information…Existing project prioritization process validates status quo instead of advancing projects based on need or impact. TxDOT’s current approach to prioritizing projects does not actually serve as a tool to evaluate which projects are strategically best, but rather works backwards to validate projects that are already in development,” noted the Sunset Staff Report.

Ignoring the Sunset Commission’s report, TxDOT has essentially maintained its existing project scoring and selection processes, while touting compliance with HB 20. It’s obvious to the average commuter that the biggest and most congested areas of the state still don’t have their projects funded or progressing – just look at stalled I-635 E in Dallas, or any part of I-35 in Austin, the Metroplex, or San Antonio.

“The minute TxDOT announced its allocations of Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds and its project selection for those new funds, we’ve been calling out the agency to re-allocate the funds to the state’s priorities. Texans are tired of waiting. It’s going to take bold action by our state leaders to ensure congestion is addressed without onerous new toll taxes and endless excuses from decision makers,” points out JoAnn Fleming, Executive Director of Grassroots America - We the People.

The Transportation Commission did not choose a funding formula for Prop 1 and Prop 7 that can possibly address the urban congestion problem without new taxes, primarily tolls. Giving both metro areas and rural areas an equal percentage of the funding pie fails to account for the dire need for very expensive, large, and complex projects in the urban areas to get long-awaited, badly needed funding to address decades-old congestion problems. It’s not only feasible, but necessary to re-work the allocation of Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds to provide adequate funding to address urban congestion, since that is where the problem lies, and that’s what Governor Abbott directed and promised to Texas commuters in September 2015 when he launched the Texas Clear Lanes Initiative.

“Texans are having to choose between keeping food on the table and paying tolls to get to work in order to buy that food, and our Governor and Lt. Governor rightly stepped in to protect Texans from an even greater toll tax burden. Rather than continue to dilly-dally nearly 6 months after the Governor said ‘no more tolls,’ TxDOT needs to get to work reallocating the funding pie to properly address urban congestion. Every day that goes by, costs go up and congestion grows more unbearable,” argues Terri Hall, Founder/Director of Texas TURF and Texans for Toll-free Highways.

Fleming and Hall say that Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick can count on the Texas Conservative Grassroots Coalition to have their backs on keeping their “no new toll roads – no new debt” promises to Texans by reining in rogue transportation bureaucrats.

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