Thanksgiving Day Holiday Hours

Quick Start for:
Fiscal Notes Logo
June 2008

Keep Texas Rolling

Challenges face Texas transportation planners.

by Clint Shields

Traffic tie-ups dog even the hardiest of Texas drivers. And with as many as 20 million new Texans expected by 2040, adding more people means more cars and trucks on Texas roads. Moving them safely and efficiently around the state will be no small task.

“Road construction, expansion and maintenance are going to be big issues in this state,” says Chris Lippincott, spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). “We’re looking at our needs 25 and 50 years from now.”

The Rising Cost of Getting Around

The price per ton of some basic road construction materials has risen sharply in recent years.

MaterialFiscal 2002 price per tonFiscal 2004 price per tonFiscal 2007 price per ton
Asphalt$171$170$332
Cement$82$84$101
Asphaltic concrete pavement$38$37$65
Steel$268$577$733

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

Road Wear and Tear

Texas has a lot of roadway, with about 80,000 centerline miles in the state highway system. Centerline miles are defined as miles traveled one-way, regardless of the number of lanes in a roadway. The state’s urban areas can expect to bear the brunt of the anticipated population increase.

There are more than 21 million registered vehicles in Texas, and Texans drive more than 230 billion miles a year. That’s similar to driving to the moon 960,000 times.

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that driving on roads in need of repair costs Texans more than $4.5 billion in annual auto repairs or extra costs, or about $326 per motorist.

TxDOT scores pavement across the state, and urban roads especially are going to need plenty of attention to keep scores high.

“In the absence of new money for maintenance, we’re going to have to move money from rural areas to urban areas in order to keep scores from suffering,” says Lippincott.

Tight Spaces

Texas’ existing highway infrastructure is tightly packed. In Austin, for example, expansion becomes a problem.

“We’ve done right-of-way studies that show in order to expand I-35, we’d have to replace places like the University of Texas’ Disch-Falk Field or Memorial Stadium, or even historic cemeteries,” Lippincott says. “I don’t think anyone wants to do that.”

So, with little room for expansion, alternate routes through rural areas become options. But those, too, are sensitive areas, both economically and historically.

But whether it’s new roads through rural areas or adding lanes to existing highways, including the center median areas, Lippincott says adding more highway will likely include toll roads.


The High Cost of Travel

The Texas Department of Transportation funds highway construction projects through the State Highway Fund and the Texas Mobility Fund, which combined contain about $10 billion.

State Highway Fund
Revenue SourcesDollars
(in billions)
Federal funds$3.0
State motor fuel tax$2.2
Vehicle registration$0.9
Bond proceeds$1.0
Other$0.5
Total$7.6
Texas Mobility Fund
Revenue SourcesDollars
(in billions)
Taxes, fines fees and miscellaneous$0.2
Bonds proceeds$2.2
Total$2.4

Source: Texas Department of Transportation

“Chances are, if we’re going to build it, it’s going to be a toll road,” he says. “There’s even the possibility of adding tolled lanes that run with the existing road.”

Right-of-way acquisition will present challenges to Texas’ transportation future. It’s estimated that right-of-way costs alone make up about one-quarter of the $3 billion State Highway 130 project in Central Texas, which runs parallel to I-35.

But Lippincott says it also presents opportunities with the state’s growing population. Utilities such as gas and water lines or even electrical transmission lines for Texas’ burgeoning wind-power industry could possibly accompany road construction once rights-of-way are obtained – all part of keeping Texans on the move.

From Texas to the World

Trade will play a large role in Texas’ transportation future, says Lippincott.

“About 80 percent of NAFTA truck traffic uses Texas roads,” he says.

Trucks move about $377 billion in commodities annually on Texas highways, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Add to that the future widening and deepening of the Panama Canal, plus interest from Asian companies in shipping goods to Texas ports, and that creates a very lucrative, yet traffic-tight Texas future. FN

The statewide planning map is online at www.dot.state.tx.us. For more information on Texas’ toll roads, go to www.texastollways.com.

Required Plug-ins