Transportation officials determined to find fundingJune 7, 2013
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A. Lee Graham
Days after the 83rd Legislature adjourned its regular session, area transportation officials already are mobilizing for the next chance to secure state funding.
“They did pretty well with education and water [funding], not so much with transportation,” said Vic Suhm, executive director of the Tarrant Regional Transportation
Speaking at the group’s June 5 monthly meeting, Suhm called the $850 million in transportation dollars approved by the Legislature insufficient for addressing state transportation needs. At least $4 billion is required each year: $1 billion to maintain existing infrastructure and $3 billion to prevent further roadway congestion, Suhm said.
Of 81 bills filed to address transportation funding, only seven secured House and Senate approval. Some of those bills funded road repairs in oil and natural gas shale plays where heavy truck traffic takes a toll. Another bill funded some special highway improvement projects.
The Tarrant coalition lobbied to raise the state vehicle registration tax, but opposition killed the proposal. Still, transportation proponents are not giving up – or placing all their hopes in the next legislative session two years from now, for that matter.
Hoping to squeeze some transportation funding from the Legislature’s special session that began May 27, Suhm’s group asked area officials to push the issue.
In a May 31 email, the Tarrant coalition reminded its members that transportation, education and water were mentioned as the highest priorities by Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus when the Legislature convened in January.
“They dealt with water and education, but fell short with transportation,” read the email.
The coalition emphasized that the Texas Department of Transportation advised the Legislature that $4 billion in additional transportation funding is needed each year to prevent further road deterioration.
“Actions taken by the Legislature in the regular session added only $850 million for transportation funding,” the email read. “Now in the special session, there is an opportunity to more than double that amount.”
To that end, Sens. Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) and Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) have filed Senate Joint Resolution 2, which would allocate some revenue growth from the oil and gas severance tax to the state highway fund.
Coalition leaders are asking its members and others to recommend the resolution to Perry, as only the governor can add items to the agenda during a special session.
Even if the special session provides no transportation funding, Suhm is confident that the issue already is a priority among some legislators.
“It’s clear that legislators do understand that transportation investment is important and more revenue is needed,” Suhm said.