Texas has become the place to be if our growing population numbers are any indication. Today, our state is a community of 27 million people. And where is most of that population concentrated? According to the Texas Demographic Center, about 86 percent of the state’s population lives in counties along I-35 and east of the interstate, specifically those areas bounded by the Dallas-Fort Worth region, Austin and San Antonio, and Houston, also known as the Texas Triangle.
Consider a few of the numbers: The Texas Demographic Center estimates that in 2016, the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan statistical area had a population of 2 million. The Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington region had more than 7.1 million people living within its borders. Within the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land MSA, our most populated region, lives more than 6.7 million people. And the population in the San Antonio-New Braunfels area tops 2.4 million.
With millions and millions of Texans living in these areas, it stands to reason that 97 of the state’s top 10 most congested roadways are concentrated within these regions. I-35, I-10, I-45 and other roadways that Texans use daily have become virtual parking lots.
Not only are many of our highways choking under the strain of too much demand and not enough capacity, but statewide, far too many Texans are losing their lives in traffic crashes. Last year, more than 3,700 Texans died in vehicle crashes. The year before, the number of fatalities was around 3,500.
With the need to get Texans out of the congestion quagmire, improve traffic safety, provide a better network for our rural citizens, and improve our overall transportation network, last August, the Texas Transportation Commission approved TxDOT’s 10-year, $70 billion Unified Transportation Program, the largest project plan in TxDOT’s history. The UTP, funded in large part by Propositions 1 and 7 – two measures approved by voters in 2014 and 2015, respectively – will help TxDOT address the state’s transportation needs.
Of the $70 billion, $28.9 billion has been earmarked to fight congestion in our metro areas and $3 billion has been allocated to initiatives and projects that will improve safety on our roads and lower traffic injuries and deaths. An additional $14 billion has been allotted to preserve roadway pavements and nearly $7 billion will go to rural areas to address regional connectivity and improve freight movement. The funding in the UTP will also address the continued need to shore up roads in the state’s energy sector. While the Texas Legislature and voters have provided TxDOT with the funding to make good on our program, it’s equally important that those dollars go to projects that make the most impact.
Project selection is handled by the Transportation Commission, in concert with local leaders, public input and our planning partners. And it’s a job that they – with assistance from TxDOT – are doing with clear direction from state lawmakers in the form of HB 20, legislation passed in 2015.
In essence, HB 20 required that projects be prioritized and selected in line with and support of TxDOT’s strategic goals and objectives. But the legislation’s requirements don’t just stop there. HB 20 also mandated that the Commission set specific performance measures, metrics and processes that will guide project selection and funding distributions.
TxDOT and the Commission have made significant progress toward implementing HB 20. We have piloted new software called Decision Lens to help us capture project performance. The Commission has also adopted administrative rules that incorporate the performance requirements that are outlined in the legislation. All of these efforts, along with continued coordination between our divisions, districts, and the state’s metropolitan planning organizations will help us identify the best projects for Texas.