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Chapter 3.2

Expand the Texas Transportation Commission


Summary

The Texas Transportation Commission (TTC) provides policy direction regarding the state’s transportation needs. Increases in transportation needs and government responsibilities have altered the way state transportation agencies must do their job. Local governments and citizens want increased accessibility to the Commission and increased awareness of regional priorities from their transportation policymakers. The TTC should be expanded to ensure the full range of state interests are represented.


Background

TTC consists of three members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate; one of the members is designated chairman by the governor. Commissioners serve staggered six-year terms, with one member’s term expiring February 1 of each odd-numbered year. TTC and its predecessors has been a three-member commission since its inception 83 years ago. Commissioners are considered “at-large,” meaning they do not represent specific districts or areas of the state, although a 1991 law requires that one commissioner reside in a rural area.[1] Members receive annual compensation of $15,914 plus actual expenses performing their official functions.[2], [3] The TTC is required to meet at least once a month.

TTC provides policy direction regarding statewide transportation needs. TTC’s primary responsibilities are to represent the general public, adopt rules for the operation of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and, with the advice and recommendations of the department’s executive director, to “plan and make policies for the location, construction and maintenance of a comprehensive system of state highways and public roads.”[4]

These official roles give TTC the authority to determine how highway funding is allocated across the state. Specifically, through its decision-making authority over TxDOT activities, the commission:

  • determines TxDOT’s overall spending priorities for long-range and strategic plans;
  • creates specific programs and identifies eligible activities for each funding category;
  • identifies the share of TxDOT’s annual funding that will be allocated for specific activities;
  • determines the factors in the allocation formulae for funds that influence the geographical distribution of maintenance and rehabilitation funds distributed to the TxDOT engineering districts;[5] and,
  • develops the criteria and evaluation methodologies TxDOT headquarters staff use to rank projects.

In summary, TTC approves programming levels, manages the project selection process, and selects strategic priority projects.[6]


Historical Representation of Commission

TTC has consistently had representation from the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston regions. In the last two decades, only three years had neither a Dallas-Fort Worth or Houston commissioner, and 60 percent of the time there was a commissioner from both regions. Over the same period, the commission chairmanship shifted back and forth between commissioners from the Dallas and Houston regions, with the exception of two years from 1990-1995.[7]

With only a three-person commission, the strong presence of commissioners from the state’s two largest areas has limited the number of commissioners from other areas of the state. Perhaps the most glaring omission has been the lack of commissioners from the Texas-Mexico border region, an area represented for only 12 months in the last 22 years. Figure 1 provides a graphical display of commissioner residences.

Figure 1
Regional Backgrounds of Commissioners (1979-200)

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

In light of the geographical backgrounds of commission members over the last 20 years, the question that often comes to mind is whether commissioners give preference to home-town projects. All available evidence indicates that TTC commissioners have been, and continue to be, fair and dedicated public officials committed to ensuring TxDOT provides the best possible transportation system to the citizens of Texas.


Limitations of a Three-Person Commission

What can be called into question, however, is the effectiveness and appropriateness of a three-person commission to plan for the transportation needs of Texas. Specifically:

  • The large share of Texas’ population and economic activity centered in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth areas creates enormous pressure for the two regions to be represented on TTC. While this is reasonable, it leaves limited room on TTC for members from other parts of the state.
  • While TTC’s role is largely strategic–they set overall department policies–the commissioners are also responsible for approving funding for specific projects. Given the sheer size of Texas, it is unlikely, if not impossible, for a three-person commission to know and understand the needs of all the state’s regions, such as Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, the border regions, rural areas, and other major cities such as Austin, El Paso and San Antonio.
  • The small size of the commission creates a barrier to providing regions with more flexibility in how they spend TxDOT funds. Instead, TTC must set one-size-fits-all policies on the split of funds between functions, which may not reflect the breakdown of needs in individual areas.
  • Commissioners are likely to be more familiar with, and better articulate, the needs of their own regions. The limited range of representation that can be provided by three members may influence decisions about programs and funding and lead to unintentional inequities in the geographical distribution of funds.
  • Fewer commissioners means that members are heavily reliant on TxDOT staff for policy development, since no commissioner has the time to delve deeply into any one area, such as innovative financing or new highway technologies.
  • The public’s role in transportation planning has changed. Citizens are more involved in transportation decision-making than they were 10 years ago. The increased role of the public is placing a growing demand for citizen access to individual commissioners, which cannot be met by a three-person commission.
  • Due to the fact that any two commissioners represent a quorum, commissioners cannot meet among themselves informally to discuss transportation issues without violating the Texas Open Meetings Law.[8] This prevents commissioners from fully understanding the positions of other commissioners and may hinder them from exchanging views.


Other State’s Transportation Commissions

While 27 of the 52 state transportation departments (including Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia) currently have boards and commissions,[9] little research appears to exist about the pros and cons of different commission sizes and structures. Consequently, it is difficult to draw conclusions from practices in other states about what would work best for TxDOT.[10] As identified in Exhibit A, however, comparing the Texas Transportation Commission to other state highway commissions identifies several important considerations:

  • other state commissions have as many as 25 members (North Carolina) and 21 of the 27 commissions have between 5 and 11 members;
  • Texas, along with Mississippi and Nevada, has the smallest commission;
  • on a construction-expenditure-per-member basis, Texas commissioners are responsible for over three times the amount of the next highest state commission (Florida) and more than seven times the national average; and,
  • on a system lane-mile-per-member basis, Texas commissioners are responsible for more than four times the amount of the next highest state commission and nearly seven times the national average.

Exhibit A

Comparison of State Transportation Boards and Commissions

State
Name
Number of Members
Annual Construction Expenditures[11]
(thousands)
Expenditures Per Member (thousands)
System Lane Miles[12]
Lane Miles Per Member
Arizona
Transportation Board
7
$516,319
$73,760
19,096
2,728
Arkansas
Transportation Commission
5
$507,686
$101,537
37,566
7,513
California
Transportation Commission
9
$2,556,213
$284,024
51,460
5,718
Colorado
Transportation Commission
11
$405,556
$36,869
25,463
2,315
Florida
Transportation Commission
9
$2,110,615
$234,513
40,819
4,535
Georgia
Transportation Board
11
$602,207
$54,746
42,494
3,863
Idaho
Transportation Board
7
$175,454
$25,065
12,751
1,822
Iowa
Transportation Commission
7
$488,070
$69,724
23,869
3,410
Kansas
Highway Advisory Commission
7
$605,028
$86,433
25,363
3,623
Michigan
Commission
6
$711,738
$118,623
44,953
7,492
Mississippi
Transportation Commission
3
$467,867
$155,956
25,869
8,623
Missouri
Transportation Commission
6
$788,264
$131,377
70,236
11,706
Montana
Transportation Commission
5
$205,288
$41,058
18,414
3,683
Nebraska
Highway Advisory Commission
8
$298,901
$37,363
3,522
2,940
Nevada
Transportation Board
3
$226,552
$75,517
14,387
4,796
New Mexico
Transportation Commission
6
$271,001
$45,167
27,263
4,544
North Carolina
Board of Transportation
25
$1,162,232
$46,489
165,711
6,628
Oklahoma
Transportation Commission
7
$346,616
$49,517
34,036
4,862
Oregon
Transportation Commission
5
$384,468
$76,894
18,418
3,684
Pennsylvania
Transportation Commission
14
$1,792,605
$128,043
89,837
6,417
South Carolina
Transportation Commission
6
$432,016
$72,003
88,801
14,800
South Dakota
Transportation Commission
9
$210,264
$23,363
19,929
2,214
Texas
Transportation Commission
3
$2,194,642
$731,547
187,509
62,503
Utah
Transportation Commission
7
$541,834
$77,405
15,782
2,255
Vermont
Transportation Board
7
$82,592
$11,799
6,301
900
Virginia
Transportation Board
15
$1,116,381
$74,425
124,711
8,314
Washington
Transportation Commission
6
$781,986
$130,331
24,870
4,145
Wyoming
Transportation Commission
7
$160,289
$22,898
16,078
2,297
Average



$107,690

6,994

Source: Federal Highway Administration and Trans Tech Management Telephone Survey, June 2000.

Despite the lack of formal analysis about transportation commission structures, there are some obvious benefits to having a larger commission, particularly for a state the size of Texas:

  • Regional representation/awareness: Regardless of whether commissioners are at-large or represent specific areas, a larger commission with members from various areas of the state is more likely to understand regional priorities and communicate them to other commission members. In states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Colorado, commissioners regularly attend regional and local government meetings to discuss transportation issues.
  • Specialization: Commissioners in states with large commissions, such as those in Colorado and Pennsylvania, are able to specialize in critical areas such as privatization, intermodalism, finance or intelligent transportation systems. These commissions, like TTC, are part-time. This higher level of participation provides both more political and policy input to staff as initiatives are developed and broader technical expertise.
  • Broadened perspective: A state transportation department has a broad range of customers that can be defined by region, demographic group, industry, and interest groups. A larger commission is better able to both understand and provide access for a broad range of interests.


Recommendations

A. State law should be amended to expand the number of members on the Texas Transportation Commission from three to seven or more with requirements that they reside in specific geographic areas of the state.

Increasing the size of the commission would ensure the full range of state interests are represented. One option for the geographical makeup of the commission could be: Houston area (1); Dallas-Fort Worth area (1); rural areas (2); border area (1); other large metro areas (e.g., San Antonio or Austin) (1); and at-large (1). A larger commission would be less reliant on TxDOT staff for policy recommendations and able to incorporate a broader range of regional and statewide issues and considerations into their policy development process. In turn, this could better enable TTC to determine a publicly acceptable balance between investment in statewide versus regional needs. Specific benefits of a larger commission could include:

  • Increased accessibility: An expanded TTC would make individual commissioners more accessible to the public to discuss citizens’ concerns, issues and interests. This expanded input would bring a better informed perspective to the development of transportation policy and solutions.
  • Greater regional representation and participation: Expanding the size of TTC and creating geographic residence requirements would expand the commission’s awareness of regional priorities and concerns. In addition, TTC members would be more involved with decision-making at the local level, which would allow TxDOT to increase local project selection flexibility (e.g., reduce the number of funding categories) while maintaining proper oversight of how state highway dollars are spent.
  • Specialization: With a larger TTC, commissioners could specialize in individual issue areas such as strategic network needs, technology applications, innovative finance, intermodal connections, and alternative modes. This in turn could lead to the development and revision of TTC policies more in line with the needs and interests of all segments of the population.

Increasing the size of TTC could also have several positive impacts on TxDOT customer service. Most importantly, it would provide better representation for areas of the state that have historically had limited involvement in the commission.

B. State law should be amended to change the compensation Texas transportation commissioners receive from part-time salaried to reimbursement for actual and necessary expenses.

TTC commissioners do not need a part-time salary when members of several major policy-making commissions and boards in state government do not receive compensation. For example, commissioners serving on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, Mental Health and Mental Retardation Commission, the Protective and Regulatory Services Board, the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, and the Texas Board of Criminal Justice are non-salaried. For the 2000-2001 biennium, these commissioners and board members set policy for agencies whose appropriations totaled $10.3 billion.

C. The Texas Department of Transportation should eliminate the commissioner assistant positions.

Each commissioner has a full-time assistant. Serving as a commissioner on the Texas Transportation Commission is a part-time function. The Commission meets monthly. The commissioners’ workload can be time-consuming, especially when the legislature is in session. But the transportation planning, programming, design and development issues that need to be presented to the commission for a decision are prepared by staff.


Fiscal Impact

Eliminating compensation for the current commissioners is expected to result in annual savings of $63,000. Eliminating three commissioner assistant positions is expected to result in $199,000 annual savings. However, increasing the commission by four additional members will result in $129,000 more in annual expenditures. The net effect of these recommendations would be about $133,000 in savings to the Highway Fund each of the next five years.[13]

Fiscal Year
Savings to Highway Fund
Cost to Highway Fund
Net Savings To
Highway Fund
Change in FTEs
2002
$262,000
($129,000)
$133,000
-3
2003
$262,000
($129,000)
$133,000
-3
2004
$262,000
($129,000)
$133,000
-3
2005
$262,000
($129,000)
$133,000
-3
2006
$262,000
($129,000)
$133,000
-3

Endnotes

[1] Acts 1991, 72nd Leg., ch.551, §5.

[2] E-mail from Jefferson Grimes, manager, State Legislative Affairs, Texas Department of Transportation, to Craig Secrest, Trans Tech Management, Inc., Austin, Texas, August 10, 2000.

[3] Average expenses per commissioner were $10,400 in 1997, $11,080 in 1998, and $15,380 in 1999; E-mail from Jefferson Grimes, manager, State Legislative Affairs, Texas Department of Transportation, to Craig Secrest, Trans Tech Management, Inc., Austin, Texas, August 10, 2000.

[4] V.T.C.A., Transportation Code, §201.103.

[5] Funding categories allocated on a geographical basis are generally used for rehabilitation purposes, although there are some minor exceptions.

[6] Texas Department of Transportation, FY2001 UTP Development Schedule, Austin, Texas, January 6, 2000.

[7] List of Transportation Commissioners for the last 20 Years by Jefferson Grimes, manager, State Legislative Affairs, Texas Department of Transportation, Austin, Texas, April 2000.

[8] V.T.C.A., Government Code, Chapter 551.

[9] States appear to be evenly divided between those with “at-large” commissions and those with single-member districts.

[10] Telephone interview with Billy Higgins, staff on Special Committee on Boards and Commission, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Washington, DC, June 1, 2000.

[11] Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 1998, (Table HF-2), 1997 figures for total (state and federal) capital disbursements for state administered highways, (Washington, DC, November 1, 1999), pp. IV-15.
[12] Federal Highway Administration, Highway Statistics 1998, (Table HM-81), (Washington, DC, November 1, 1999), pp. V-46.

[13] E-mail from Jefferson Grimes, manager, State Legislative Affairs, Texas Department of Transportation, to Craig Secrest, Trans Tech Management, Inc., Austin, Texas, August 10, 2000.