Increase Equity of Highway Funds Allocation System
The federal government and nearly all state and local transportation agencies throughout the country continually struggle to allocate funds in a manner that is fair and equitable, and that address strategic priorities. In Texas—though TxDOT has worked hard to develop and maintain equitable planning, programming, and allocation mechanisms—many state officials, local governments, business interests, and private citizens are unhappy with the agency’s allocation processes, and mistrust its results.
In a survey conducted by NuStats Research and Consulting for the Texas Comptroller’s office, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of all respondents believed that their region does not receive a fair share in TxDOT-related funding.
Given the diverse and ever-growing transportation needs throughout the state, TxDOT needs to take special care to ensure that all voices are heard when determining funding. New mechanisms need to be put into place that show the agency is considering these varying views and that give the agency increased public accountability in an easily understood form.
Establish A New, Straightforward Approach To Allocating Funds
Over the last 20 years, TxDOT has continually expanded the number of its program funding categories and sub-allocations. The result is a convoluted funding framework comprising 34 funding categories—several with sub-allocations—and a maze of formulas and project ranking mechanisms.
The process is extremely complex. TxDOT tends to group funding categories by the source of funds, as follows: Federal Funded Project Specific; State Funded Project Specific; Federal Funded Allocation (bank balance); and 100 percent State Funded (bank balance). However, for local governments and citizens, the more important issues are the eligible uses of funds and who has project selection authority and influence.
TxDOT’s complex funding structure is no longer appropriate. The agency should eliminate its current program planning and funding allocation processes and establish a new, straightforward, allocation formula that funds both strategic priorities and regional needs in a predictable, equitable and understandable manner. The simplified formula should be developed with the help of advisors including elected officials and citizens. Lists of projects should be prioritized and a report made to the Legislature to ensure compliance. Lastly, transportation planning regions based on logical geographical boundaries and a 10-year ‘Statewide Mega-Project’ transportation program should be established.
Expand the Texas Transportation Commission
Transportation needs in Texas are complex and differ dramatically throughout the state. The Texas Transportation Commission, which provides policy direction for statewide transportation needs, should be expanded from three to at least seven positions with statewide distribution. The following is the suggested distribution: one commissioner each from Dallas, Houston and one other major metropolitan area, two from rural areas, one from the Texas/Mexico border area, and one who represents the state—at-large.
This expanded board with its required distribution throughout the state would bring forward issues from currently underrepresented constituencies, particularly those along the border. With the dramatic increase in traffic due to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the border and its traffic problems are more acute. If we do not adequately address the needs of this area, the cost of delays and poor roads on the vehicles that must travel them will add to the cost of goods being transported throughout the state, impacting us all.