TRANSPORTATION FUNDING NEEDS OVERHAUL, SAYS NICHOLS
(AUSTIN) — Texas has to find a better way to pay for roads and bridges, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Robert Nichols of Jacksonville said at a meeting of his committee on Wednesday. The current funding system that relies on taxes on gasoline and automobile registration fees isn't generating nearly enough revenue, he said, and TxDOT has almost run out of bonding authority. "Current system can no longer maintain the system. At a time when we need new capacity, our urban areas are choking down, we have no traditional funds for new capacity and at the same time, we don't have the traditional funds to maintain our system," said Nichols. "For the past ten or twelve years we've been riding on a bubble of debt. and now it's time to pay the piper. "
|Chairman Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville told colleagues the state must find a better way to pay for transportation costs at a meeting of the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday.|
Nichols remarks came following a briefing from TxDOT Executive Director Paul Wilson, who told the committee that his agency is facing serious challenges to building new projects and maintaining old roads. Wilson said that the agency will exhaust its bonding authority by 2015, after which it will have to rely solely on registration fees and the gas tax. The dedicated transportation fund is losing purchasing power due to the increasing costs of road construction and maintenance. Wilson said that increasing fuel efficiency is also hurting the state's transportation system. Though increased efficiency is good for the environment, he said, cars can go farther on a tank of gas, increasing wear and tear on the roads. Drivers of efficient cars also need less gas, decreasing gas tax revenue for the state. Wilson told the committee the state needs to find a more reliable way to fund transportation construction and maintenance.
Transportation, along with water development, were two highlights of Lt. Governor David Dewhurst's opening speech to the Senate. The topics were also featured in Governor Rick Perry's State of the State address. Nichols agreed with them that now is the time to fix the transportation funding system. "This is the session we need to do that because these guys [TxDOT officials] cannot plan the system that we know that we need," said Nichols. "I'm hoping everyone in the building pays really good attention to that."
The Senate will reconvene Monday, February 18 at 2 p.m.