Thursday, January 18, 2001

Carole Strayhorn (Formerly Carole Keeton Rylander) Audits TxDOT

Highway Audit

Logjam on freeways brings political pressure

January 18, 2001

The Dallas Morning News
Copyright 2001

As one of the fastest-growing states, Texas faces no shortage of problems in the 21st century. But none is more daunting than the challenge to maintain a transportation system that keeps pace with the population explosion.

State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander has concluded the Texas Transportation Department is faltering under the strain. In a tough audit of the department, Ms. Rylander recommended ways an additional $1.1 billion could be made available for roads over the next two years. And she proposed "creative contracting techniques" that would speed up roadway construction.

Texas legislators should welcome the recommendations. State lawmakers face mounting pressure to reduce the logjam on freeways throughout Texas. Legislators also should change their highway-centric views to include mass transit in bond proposals.

Some of the proposals deserve immediate attention. Ms. Rylander recommended the state abandon its pay-as-you-go policies and issue grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds, which would be repaid from future federal highway dollars.

The critical transportation needs of Texas could require this kind of funding approach.

While Ms. Rylander's recommendations should jump-start legislative discussions of highway and transportation needs, other solutions merit consideration as well.

A nickel increase in the state gasoline tax would provide a dependable source of income paid by those who use Texas' freeways.

TEX-21, a nonprofit coalition representing nearly 70 cities and counties throughout Texas, is urging the state to press for significantly more federal funding to handle traffic generated by the North American Free Trade Agreement. The organization identified eight heavy trade traffic corridors through Texas.

In addition, a proposal is in the works to ask that $500 million in federal highway trust funds be matched with state money to address the most serious roadway problems.

A survey this fall found that most Texas drivers face much worse traffic problems than they did five years ago and don't expect things to get better in the near future. The findings prompted Gov. Rick Perry to say that traffic was "jeopardizing the quality of life in Texas" and place transportation second only to education on his legislative agenda.

State legislators should view Ms. Rylander's audit as a good foundation for providing the financial tools Texas will need in the coming years to deal with this looming transportation crisis.

Copyright 2001 The Dallas Morning News: