Expansive population growth and changes in driving habits and car ownership will require a longer-term vision about transportation policy over the next decade. That was the sentiment of some state legislators who sat on a discussion panel at the Irving Transportation Investment Summit on September 12.
“The whole industry is changing and we need to think longer-term, like a 20-year horizon,” State Senator Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) pointed out.
State Representative Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) and State Senator Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) joined Hancock on the legislative panel.
While transportation didn’t attract the attention that property tax and education did in the 86th Texas Legislative session, North Texas legislators agreed that progress was made.
State Senator Kelly Hancock pointed out that transportation “got some love” to the tune of $31 billion in the biennial budget.
“The majority of legislators believe that transportation is underfunded,” said Shaheen. “It used to be 25 percent of the budget, but now it is 12 percent.”
Hancock pointed out that health care and education costs are squeezing out transportation funding. “Health care used to be ten percent of the budget and is now forty percent. It is growing at twice the rate of anything else,” he explained.
Proposition 1, which passed in 2014, dedicates certain funding in the state budget to the State Highway Fund. It was due to sunset in 2024, but the legislature extended it until 2034.
One area of sharp disagreement among the legislators was over the use of toll roads.
Three toll roads border Shaheen’s district, and he believes their existence is a major consequence of insufficient transportation funding. “I can’t stand toll roads,” Shaheen said, adding that many of his constituents agree with him because they believe they are being taxed twice.
Powell, on the other hand, said she believes a change in attitude toward public/private partnerships and toll roads is warranted. “I consider how my constituents feel now that their commute is reduced by toll roads and the stress on other lanes is relieved.”
When asked if the legislature is any closer to approving a privately funded high-speed rail, legislators had differing views.
Powell indicated her support for the proposal. Shaheen said he could support it if it was private, but that he would make clear that the state would not bail it out. Hancock was more ambivalent, saying he has voted yes and no on various proposals. He emphasized that he is leery of taking land and building an infrastructure that ultimately isn’t sustainable.
North Texas is growing rapidly. Fort Worth is currently the 13th largest city in the United States and could soon move to No. 11. Urbanization and increasing land values lead to questions about affordable housing and transportation needs near urban work centers.
Powell advocates looking at “multi-modal transportation systems to get the vast number of people to their work and education centers.”
“I think Austin has figured out that tents aren’t the answer. Look at Fort Worth for the right way to deal with homelessness,” Hancock tossed out, adding that entrepreneurs and the free market are coming up with answers to affordable housing.
Meanwhile, fewer people are purchasing cars, opting instead to use services like Lyft and Uber. The electric car market grew over 100 percent from 2017 to 2018 according to EVAdoption, but still occupies a tiny sliver of the car market.
Because of these changes, the state legislature commissioned a study to evaluate the impact of electric cars and how their growing number will impact the gas tax revenue that funds many transportation projects.
The study will be conducted by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles and will also look into fees that are imposed on electric cars by other states.
The report is due by December 1, 2020.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.