The month of June 2012 will go down in history as a major transportation month. For the first time in years, the United States Congress and the President of the United States have agreed on a twenty-seven month extension of our federal-aid program. The extension had bi-partisan support and an overwhelming number of congressional representatives and senators voted in favor of maintaining the current level of highway funding.
We did have several representatives—and Senator Cornyn— who voted against the highway bill. In addition, there was a preliminary vote (which failed) in which a number of Texas representatives voted to reduce highway spending by $750 million each year. As a result of the final legislation, Texas will continue to get $1.22 for every $1.00 sent forward out of our fuel taxes. The move is extremely positive for the state of Texas and TxDOT has already authorized the letting of the additional funds.
As a matter of fact, the second key item in June was the highway commission meeting June 28, when the commission authorized an additional $2 billion in projects for the 2012 Unified Transportation Plan; authorized the development, design, construction, and potentially maintenance of the Dallas Horseshoe project on I-30 from Sylvan Avenue to west of I-45 and on I-35 East from north of 8th Street to north of I-30; and approved $728,000 as payment for the work product of unsuccessful proposers. The list of projects that were approved as an addition to the Unified Transportation Plan is available upon request.
The third key occurrence in June was the completion of the “Cost of Doing Nothing” information resources developed by the chapter office. There are three documents: a tri-fold brochure giving a brief analysis of the issue, a four-page broader discussion of how we got into the problems we currently have on highway funding, and a massive book outlining the details of the program.
The major document shows the amount of diversion of highway funds. It also shows that as a result of bonds sold in recent years the cost of our debt and long-term obligation is roughly $15.2 billion or $1.3 billion per year. The highway funds are scheduled to peak during the next fiscal year where we will enjoy the additional funds as well as cost savings developed by the department with a letting schedule, between local—and Austin—let, and some design and right-of-way cost, to be about $7 billion. In fiscal year 2014, however, that number drops to $2.8 billion and continues for two years at that level until it drops to $2.4 billion. That is, unless TxDOT receives an infusion of cash. It is expected that the funding of highways will be a major issue during the next legislative session.
Recently, the chapter jointly participated in a statewide voter opinion poll which had some very interesting results. 64% of the public think we currently have an adequate supply of water for our population; however, 53% of the people said that we do not have an adequate supply of water available to meet the future needs of the state. When asked if we should develop a dependable water supply and funding mechanism, 90% agreed it is critical to our economy, and 66% agreed we need more lakes to insure long-term water. 44% of the public felt that our farm-to-market roads were in either good or excellent condition when only 21% felt that they were fair or poor. 94% of the public felt that a good state highway and transportation system is important to a strong economy in Texas. When asked if during tight budget times we should cut back on our highway construction 61% said no. 61% also feel that it is better to pay as you go rather than continue to use borrowed money. Typically the public does not want to pay any additional taxes, but they do want additional highway expenditures and they want less congestion.
The Texas Department of Transportation, AGC, and the legislature continue to work with both the University of Texas and Texas A&M to identify the greatest problem areas with our highway funding and to identify potential solutions.
Chairman of our Highway Funding Task Force Bob Lanham continues to spearhead the awareness program, and it is anticipated that he will appear before the state legislature and outline all of the important data developed on the funding issue.
Mark your calendar to attend the Scholarship Gala on August 7, 2012. Thirty five of the forty tables have already been purchased, so if you have been meaning to get around to getting yours, time is of the essence. Last year was a great success for our scholarship program, as well as for the attendees who had a great time. We hope to see you there.