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Texas’ transportation system is vital to its economic prosperity. Indeed, because of the state’s sheer size, its large and growing population and its proximity to Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico, Texas transportation affects the entire nation’s economy and quality of life. U.S. trade with other countries, both import and export, relies on the Texas transportation system. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Texas has seven of the top 50 water ports (in terms of total tonnage) in the U.S., and more products and goods are shipped in and out of Texas than any other state.72


Texas motor fuels tax totaled $3.1 billion, about 8.3 percent of tax collections (and the fourth highest tax in revenues) in fiscal 2007.*

Over the past century, Texas has created a transportation system with few rivals.73 According to the Texas Almanac, Texas leads the states in total road and street mileage (300,000 miles), total railroad mileage (more than 10,000 miles) and total airports and airstrips (about 1,800).74 Texas has 49,829 bridges; 423 miles of intracoastal waterways along the entire length of its coast; and 28 ports.75

Future growth in Texas’ population will bring challenges for the transportation system, forcing the state to increase capacity, repair deteriorating infrastructure facilities, decrease or at least control traffic congestion and address safety issues – while also meeting state and federal air pollution standards.


The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is responsible for the maintenance and enhancement of the state highway system and allocating state and federal money to local areas to assist them with the construction and maintenance of local roads and streets. In addition to these funds, communities also fund road projects through local taxes and bond packages.

In 2007, the state highway system consisted of about 79,645 centerline miles (miles traveled in a one-way direction regardless of the number of lanes) of road and carried about 74 percent of the state’s vehicular traffic. Included are 28,357 miles of U.S. and state highways, carrying 36 percent of traffic (including 22 centerline miles of toll roads); 40,996 miles of farm-to-market roads, carrying 11 percent of traffic; 9,953 miles of interstate highways and frontage roads, carrying 26 percent of traffic; and 339 miles of parks and recreation roads, carrying less than 1 percent of traffic. An additional 65 centerline miles of toll roads are under construction.76

In fiscal 2004, Texas also had about 143,578 centerline miles of county roads and 78,990 centerline miles of city streets that are not considered part of the state highway system.77

Highways are also used to transport goods. Trucks move more freight to, from and within the state than any other mode of transportation. In 2002, almost 1 billion tons of freight, valued at $866 billion, were moved by truck in Texas, or about 46 percent of all freight moved in Texas that year. This percentage is expected to increase to 52 percent by 2035, with an anticipated 2.3 billion tons valued at nearly $3.2 trillion.78


Texas funds its transportation system primarily through federal transportation aid, state and federal motor fuels taxes (20 cents per gallon and 18.4 cents per gallon, respectively), motor vehicle registration fees, bond proceeds and toll road revenue. These taxes and fees amounted to nearly $7.7 billion in fiscal 2007.

Exhibit 23

State Highway Fund, Fiscal 2007

In millions

Revenue Sources Dollars Percent
Federal funds 3,023.3 39.4%
State motor fuel tax 2,227.1* 29.0%
Vehicle registration 969.8 12.6%
Bond proceeds 1,000.0 13.0%
Other 455.2 5.9%
Total State Highway Fund 7,675.4 100.0%

*About a fourth of motor fuels taxes collected in Texas go to fund public education.
Note: Numbers may not total due to rounding.
Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

For the 2006-07 biennium, the Legislature appropriated $15.2 billion to TxDOT to build and ensure safe and efficient roadways. This amount represented a 24 percent or $2.9 billion funding increase over the total for the 2004-05 biennium (Exhibit 23).79 describes TxDOT various funding sources.

In addition to these funds, TxDOT also can use construction funds from the Texas Mobility Fund (TMF). The TMF is composed of money collected primarily from drivers with traffic violations; bonds are issued on the balance of the TMF by the state. These revenues are then allocated to local transportation planning boards for improvements to the state highway system only. Once local transportation planning boards have decided on a project or improvement on the state highway system in their area, TxDOT either completes the work or contracts it out to a private construction firm.

In fiscal 2007, the TMF contained $2.3 billion that can be used to support bonds issued to fund transportation projects. Exhibit 24 provides a breakdown of the funding in the Texas Mobility Fund.

Road Capacity

In fiscal 2006, Texans owned 20.1 million registered vehicles, second only to California.80 In the same year, the state had about 17.7 million citizens of driving age (16 years or older), equating to an average of 1.1 registered vehicles per citizen of driving age.81

Over the last 25 years, Texas’ population increased by 57 percent and road use grew by 95 percent, but the state’s road capacity grew by just 8 percent. TxDOT estimates that the state’s population will increase by another 64 percent over the next 25 years; road use will grow by 214 percent; and state road capacity will increase by just 6 percent, if current financing patterns continue.

TxDOT and regional metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have identified $188 billion worth of transportation projects needed to achieve an acceptable level of mobility, as determined by MPOs and the citizens they represent, in Texas communities by 2030. According to TxDOT, however, traditional funding mechanisms will provide only $102 billion over that period. This leaves the state with a significant funding gap. To help offset it, TxDOT is partnering with private companies to finance, build and operate toll roads.82

Toll roads on the Texas state highway system currently include about 22 centerline miles on State Highway 255 (formerly the Camino Colombia Toll Road) and about 65 centerline miles (currently open or under construction) on State Highway 130, State Highway 45N and Loop 1 (the Central Texas Turnpike Project). An additional eight centerline miles connecting Interstate 35 with State Highway 130 and U.S. Highway 183 are in the early stages of construction. Local toll authorities such as those in Dallas and Houston also oversee toll roads, as do some regional mobility authorities.


The Texas Department of Transportation was appropriated $8.7 billion – about 10 percent of the state budget – for fiscal 2008.*

Other toll roads to be developed through comprehensive development agreements with private transportation infrastructure companies are in various stages of planning, including:

  • Trans Texas Corridor-35;
  • Interstate Highway 635 in Dallas;
  • State Highway 121 in Dallas;
  • Interstate Highway 820/State Highway 183 from Fort Worth to DFW; and
  • Loop 1604 and U.S. Highway 281, in San Antonio.

Also, State Highway 99 (the Grand Parkway) around the Houston area is a toll road.83

To help clarify roles, responsibilities and authorities regarding toll roads, the 80th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 792, which establishes several new rules regarding toll roads, who builds them and how they are financed. Perhaps the most important measure in S.B. 792 is that it designates local toll entities (county toll road authorities and regional tollway authorities) as having the first option to build projects within their jurisdiction. If local entities do not exercise the option, TxDOT may undertake the projects. But in either event, the local entity or TxDOT must ensure that there are free roads equal to or greater than what existed prior to the construction of the toll road project.

Exhibit 24

Texas Mobility Fund, Fiscal 2007

In millions

Revenue Sources Dollars
Taxes, Fines, Fees & Misc. $147.0
Bonds Proceeds $2,200.0
Total Texas Mobility Fund $2,347.0

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

S.B. 792 also requires TxDOT to assist local toll entities in the completion of their projects by providing rights of way owned by TxDOT and access to the state highway system by entering into an agreement with the local toll authority.84

Infrastructure Maintenance

As noted above, TxDOT is responsible for the preservation and maintenance of the state highway system. System maintenance, in fact, is the agency’s largest function in terms of the number of employees involved. In fiscal 2004, 6,466 full-time-equivalent TxDOT positions were directly involved in the maintenance function, or about 43.5 percent of the agency’s personnel.

Highway system maintenance includes roadway surface improvement, road base repairs, bridge and drainage structure inspection and maintenance and road sign and traffic signal repair. It also encompasses litter cleanup, roadside mowing, rest area maintenance and the repair of damage caused by floods, hurricanes and other disasters. According to TxDOT, 85 percent of its annual funding, excluding money from the TMF, is consumed by maintenance costs for existing transportation infrastructure. The 2007 Legislature appropriated about $5.8 billion for contracted and routine and preventive highway maintenance for the 2008-09 biennium.

As noted earlier, Texas has 49,829 bridges, about 40 percent more than any other state. Their average age is 41 years for bridges on the state highway system and 30 years for those off the state highway system. As of September 2006, 77 percent of Texas bridges (38,425) were classified by TxDOT as in “good or better condition” or as having a “sufficient structure” to handle its current load and capacity and meet all state and federal requirements.

TxDOT conducts routine inspections of each bridge at least once every two years, classifying them by condition according to federal and state requirements. TxDOT estimates that Texas has 2,125 “structurally deficient” bridges. These bridges are limited in their load-carrying capacity or are frequently under water; they can handle their current capacity but create severe traffic delays. Texas also has 7,802 “functionally obsolete” bridges that do not meet current design standards and cannot handle today’s traffic volumes and types efficiently. Finally, Texas has 1,409 “substandard-for-load-only” bridges. These are not structurally deficient or functionally obsolete but have a load capacity less than the maximum permitted by state law.

Because TxDOT is continually upgrading the current bridge system, it is difficult to estimate what it would cost to fix all of the state’s bridges to the TxDOT definition of “good or better status” or that of a “sufficient structure,” (i.e., bridge meets current federal and Texas requirements and is not structurally deficient, functionally obsolete or substandard for load only). To address those bridges that are in the most need of repair or replacement, TxDOT contracts with private companies to fix these bridges. In fiscal 2006, TxDOT contracted with various road and bridge construction companies to replace or rehabilitate 549 bridges at a price of $544.6 million. In addition to the repair and replacement contracts in fiscal 2006, the agency also had several contracts with a combined value of $417.5 million to build 249 new bridges.85

TxDOT’s maintenance funding also is used to maintain the Texas portions of the Intracoastal Waterway and two toll-free ferry systems. The ferry systems connect Port Aransas to Aransas Pass and Galveston Island to the Bolivar Peninsula. In fiscal 2004, the ferry system at Port Aransas transported about 2.3 million vehicles, while the ferry system at Galveston transported about 2.1 million vehicles. Maintenance of these ferries and the Intercoastal Waterway was appropriated $44 million for the 2006-07 biennium.86


In 2002, freight shipments to, from and within Texas totaled 2.2 billion tons – with a value of $1.3 trillion.*


Mobility – the simple ability to travel – has long been important to the American lifestyle. As more and more vehicles crowd our roadways, though, traffic congestion is having an increasingly debilitating effect on our quality of life. According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI’s) 2007 Annual Urban Mobility Report, in 2005 congestion caused 4.2 billion hours of travel delay and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel in urban areas in the U.S. The study reported that the average annual delay per traveler in those areas climbed from 14 hours in 1982 to 38 hours in 2005. Texas had nine cities among the 85 largest urban areas.87

The TTI report recommended a number of solutions to alleviate congestion including:

  • making the system more efficient by rapid removal of crashed or stalled vehicles and timing traffic signals so that more vehicles see more green lights;
  • adding road and transit system capacity in critical corridors;
  • relieving chokepoints in both the road and transit system;
  • changing usage patterns through flexible work hours and combining trips;
  • providing choices such as different routes, toll lanes, high occupancy vehicle lanes; and
  • diversifying the residential development patterns in communities to include a blending of commercial and residential areas within close proximity so that walking is a viable option.

According to TTI, “public transportation improvements are particularly important in congested corridors and to serve major activity centers.” TTI advocates the use of mass transit, including buses and commuter or “light” rail (where appropriate), to help congested areas cope with their mobility problems.88

Safety Issues

TxDOT coordinates the Texas Traffic Safety Program and the State and Community Highway Safety Program and implements the provisions of the Highway Safety Plan, which provides communities with state and federal grant funding for traffic safety projects. During fiscal 2007, TxDOT funded about 860 traffic safety programs at a cost of $40.9 million. Program topics include safety belts, child safety seats, speeding, aggressive driving and driving under the influence.

TxDOT directly maintains 6,315 traffic signals costing $24.5 million annually. Texas has 10,399 crossings between highways and railroads. The majority of these have electronic warning devices.89 In addition to TxDOT’s efforts, the Texas Department of Public Safety, county sheriff offices and municipal police forces around the state enforce traffic and speed laws on Texas roads. Local municipalities maintain and service thousands of traffic signs, traffic control equipment and stop lights across the state.

Air Quality


Texas sales and rental tax on motor vehicles and manufactured housing totaled $3.33 billion (ranking second in tax revenues in fiscal 2007.*

Improving air quality in Texas’ urban areas is an enormously important priority that can improve the health and quality of life for all Texans and prevent the loss of federal highway dollars that are essential to the state’s transportation system.

The federal Energy Policy Act of 1992 required state governments to acquire light-duty vehicles powered by alternative fuels and to gradually convert their fleet to alternative fuels. 90 In addition to the Act, car manufacturers and the public have gradually accepted alternative fuels and hybrid technologies.

Since that time, the number of vehicles powered by alternative fuels has grown significantly. As of March 2007, there were more than 10.5 million vehicles using alternative fuel in the U.S. In Texas, 966,000 vehicles, or about 5 percent of all vehicles registered in the state, were classified as hybrids, flexible-fuel vehicles or vehicles capable of using alternative fuels. (Flexible-fuel vehicles can use multiple fuels to power their engine, such as either regular gasoline or an ethanol-gasoline mix.)91


Economic development throughout the state and the U.S. largely depends on transportation infrastructure in Texas, particularly railways. Rail is one of the main modes of transporting goods throughout the country. For an area to have a thriving business climate, it must have an integrated way to move goods to and from the region for distribution to destinations in North America.

In 2002, about 271 million tons of freight (12.5 percent of the total), valued at $66 billion were moved by rail in Texas. This percentage is expected to remain steady at 12.3 percent through 2035, with an anticipated 534 million tons valued at $114 billion.92

Texas has more than 10,000 miles of railroad tracks, more than any other state. Those tracks are owned or operated by Union Pacific Railroad (6,408 miles), the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railway (4,645 miles) and the Kansas City Southern Railway (379 miles).93 One intermodal train (trains transporting freight) can take 280 trucks (equal to 1,100 cars) off highways.94

Passenger rail, travel primarily for recreational purposes, has become more popular in Texas in recent years. Amtrak, which crisscrosses the state, has seen a significant increase in its ridership in Texas, from 189,594 riders in 1994 to 267,568 riders in 2004.95

Many experts and citizen groups recommend diversifying our transport systems by increasing support for alternatives such as public transit. To accomplish this, many cities have made significant investments in buses, light rail and heavy rail systems. About two dozen U.S. cities have some sort of rail transit service. In Texas, the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex has a rail system, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and the Houston Metroplex has the Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) of Harris County.

Air Travel

Texas has 303 public-use airports, with hundreds more airports and airstrips that are exclusively for private use. More than 61,000 Texans work in aviation, earning about $2.5 billion in annual salaries. Aviation generates nearly $8.7 billion in Texas economic output.96

More than 91 percent of the state’s population lives within 50 miles of a commercial airport. In 2003, commercial carriers had more than 60 million enplanements in the state (that is, persons boarding a plane in Texas). Eighty percent of these enplanements occurred at one of four airports in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex and the greater Houston area (Dallas/Fort Worth International, Dallas Love Field, Houston George Bush Intercontinental and Houston’s William P. Hobby).97

In addition to air passenger travel, air freight transport plays a large role in air traffic throughout Texas, the U.S. and the world. Economic growth and development drives the need for more air cargo capacity, which is being seen in both the Metroplex and Houston.

Air freight transport accounts for a small portion of all freight transport. In 2002, fewer than 300,000 tons of freight valued at $20 billion were moved by air in Texas. This is less than 1 percent of all freight moved in Texas that year. This share is not expected to increase by 2035, with an anticipated 900,000 tons valued at $105 billion.98

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) and Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) handle most of the air cargo in Texas. DFW handles almost 65 percent of all international air cargo in Texas, with nearly 3 million square feet of cargo space.99 In 2006, DFW reached 281,486 tons of air cargo.100 A recent renovation of the IAH cargo facilities increased the cargo area to nearly 900,000 square feet and increased the potential capacity to 454,000 tons.101


Ports, like railroads and air transport, are key in moving goods throughout Texas, the U.S. and the world, and thus are essential to economic growth and development. Texas’ ports provide shipping access to international destinations such as Mexico and Central and South America, and even Europe, Asia and Africa.

Texas has 28 seaports, of which four – Houston, Beaumont, Corpus Christi and Texas City – ranked among the top ten U.S. ports for total cargo tonnage in 2005. In that year, Texas ranked first among states in the total tonnage of products imported by waterway or seaport, with about 500 million tons of cargo or about 20 percent of the U.S. total.102

Texas’ marine and intermodal transportation (transportation of goods from ports to their eventual destinations) generates nearly $65 billion in economic activity annually, equivalent to 10 percent of the gross state product. Each year, Texas ports generate almost $5 billion in local and state tax revenue and support nearly a million jobs.

Texas ports also affect the national economy. The Port of Houston is the Gulf Coast’s largest container port (that is, goods shipped in standardized containers that can be transferred directly to trucks or trains). In addition, Texas ports generate $9 billion in federal import tax revenue each year.

The Gulf Intercoastal Waterway (GIWW) connects Texas ports with the rest of the U.S. In Texas, the GIWW moves more than 73 million tons of cargo each year. This cargo is carried on about 40,000 barges, capacity equivalent to more than 3 million semis or 570,000 rail cars.103

Texas Infrastructure Questions for Further Consideration

  • What strategies can Texas use to conserve water resources to ensure that all Texans have access to clean and affordable water?
  • How can Texas generate enough affordable and clean energy for its rapidly growing population?
  • What strategies can Texas use to fund new roads, rails and air capacity to meet the demand of a rapidly growing population?
  • What strategies can Texas use to ensure adequate maintenance of roadways and bridges?
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