Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Texas Rep. Michael Burgess paves the way for the Trans-Texas Corridor in Washington

Transportation summit focuses on problems and solutions

Surface transportation expected to be biggest challenge to economic development

November 28, 2006

By Linda Taylor
The Lewisville Leader
Copyright 2006

Civic leaders, members of area city staffs and representatives from the private sector joined Congressman Michael Burgess and members of his staff Tuesday at Texas Motor Speedway for a transportation summit that focused on the problems this area is facing as growth continues.

“The No. 1 complaint among the people who come out to the races is traffic,” said Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway. “If the roads don’t improve immediately, we are going to be in a real bind in just a few short years.”

This is the fourth transportation summit sponsored by Burgess, who represents the 26th Congressional District that includes most of Denton County, large portions of Tarrant County and Cooke County and a small section of Dallas County. Burgess served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee during his first term in Congress, which began in 2002. He has been a solid advocate of drawing attention to the transportation needs and issues of the North Texas area.

“Our transportation system has a direct and significant impact on our lives,” Burgess told the gathering. “North Texas gives us some of the most profound transportation challenges in the country and because of that it needs to be on the forefront of the cutting edge of transportation reform. The solutions need to come from the grassroots up, because it is you people who know how significant the problem is.”

Burgess added that, rightly or wrongly, the lion’s share of this area’s transportation problems has been dropped on the doorstep of the Texas Department of Transportation. During the 109th Congress, Burgess worked with TxDOT together to ensure that a number of provisions would be enacted as a part of the highway reauthorization legislation, also known as SAFETEA-LU.

The key issues addressed by SAFETEA-LU that concerned Burgess and his constituents were transportation development credits, design-build, environmental streamlining provisions and borders to corridors.

Transportation development credits are important because they provide a source of funding for highways and other infrastructure. One provision of the bill allows states to receive credit on a pro rata basis for their investments in toll projects. Under the new funding formula, Texas’ toll investments should net an additional $2.1 billion in transportation development credits. This will allow TxDOT and local communities to support more transit and rail projects.

Design build, which allows entities to include the design and construction of projects under one bid, will streamline the process and shorten the project times.

SAFETEA-LU encompassed many environmental streamlining components that will allow for interagency coordination required to complete the environmental review process for large complex transportation projects. Delegation of this authority should result in significant cost savings to the state, measured in reduced days of project review.

A new funding formula for the borders/corridors program divided the program, making the border portion a formula program. The new formula directs funding to Border States for the promotion and facilitation of trade across U.S. borders. Because Texas has ports of entry and the longest contiguous international border in the country, they have the greatest need for these funds.

Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Texas Council of Governments, said innovative funding is critical if the area is to solve its transportation problems without raising the tax on gasoline by more than one dollar per gallon.

“Over the last 25 years, the Texas population has grown 57 percent, while the new road capacity grew just 8 percent over the same period,” Morris said. “Most of those funds go for maintenance and operations of existing infrastructure. In the DFW region, $79.3 billion of new projects are needed to reach an acceptable level of mobility by 2030. Only $45 billion has been identified to meet those needs, leaving us with a shortfall of $34.3 billion. The region is growing by a million people every seven years, leaving us with a significant challenge in meeting the transportation needs of those people.”

Morris said the aging infrastructure is another problem that can’t be overlooked. In 2030, the last major renovations and new projects, which were begun in 1980, will be 50 years old and in need of total replacement in many cases.

With highway congestion increasing and air quality decreasing, many officials are looking at mass transit as a way to help alleviate some of the area’s transportation issues. But again, funding is the critical element.

Nancy Amos, senior vice president for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, acknowledged that ridership on public transportation has increased significantly during the past few years.

“The number of people who use public transportation in Fort Worth jumped more than 13 percent in the first six months of 2006,” Amos said. “During this period, we have added 12 new buses to keep up with the demand in ridership that edged close to 4 million trips for buses, trolleys, vans, vanpools and Tarrant County boardings on the Trinity Railway Express.”

The TRE, owned and operated jointly by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, also serves an increasing number of riders. In August, they reported their highest monthly ridership in its history by carrying 224,017 riders.

Doug Allen, executive vice president for Dallas Area Rapid Transit said regional cooperation is the key to solving the area’s transportation problems in both the short and long term.

“Currently we serve 13 member cities and five member counties,” Allen said. “We also have an aggressive expansion program that will provide service to many more residents by 2013.”

Charles Emery, chairman of the Denton County Transportation Authority said the primary source of funding for passenger rail service will come from sales taxes.

“A good solid passenger rail service, coupled with the other mass transit possibilities, should reduce the problems we are facing by about 85 percent,” Emery said.

The consensus of those participating in the summit seemed to be that there are many problems to face, most caused by growth and lack of funding. However, they are confident those problems can be overcome through joint efforts of all government entities and citizen involvement.

© 2006 The Lewisville Leader: www.lewisvilleleader.com