Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sen. Hutchison makes empty promises, ducks indexed gas tax to pay for roads.

Keeping Texas transportation moving forward


Kay Bailey Hutchison
hardin County News
Copyright 2007

There are few things more frustrating than being stuck in traffic. But, every day at rush hour,we are reminded of the strain that Texas' growing population puts on our roads and highways. Severe congestion can turn major arteries into virtual parking lots. Even rural and suburban Texans are affected as urban areas expand outward. I am confident that by working together, we can develop comprehensive solutions to our transportation challenges.

As your U.S. Senator, making sure Texas receives its fair share of federal transportation funding is one of my top priorities, and we have made great strides in this area. When I came to the Senate in 1993, our state received only 76 cents in transportation funding for every dollar we paid in gas taxes. But in the years since, I worked with my colleagues to increase our average annual funding by almost $800 million and make Texas second only to California in federal transportation support. Unfortunately, large states have historically paid more into the federal Highway Trust Fund than they receive back in transportation investment. It is fundamentally unfair for our tax dollars to fund projects in smaller states like Delaware and Rhode Island. The money Texans pay should be used on Texas roads, and I will continue my efforts to secure a 100 percent return on our gas tax dollars.

However, as new demands are placed on the Trust Fund, even a full gas tax return would not provide for all of our necessary projects. In fact, the U.S. Department of Transportation predicts a $4 billion highway budget shortfall within two years. Like many states, Texas has turned to other options, such as the construction of toll roads, to pay for transportation improvements. While new toll roads can be a successful part of an overall transportation solution, no one should be forced to pay tolls to use roads they have already paid for. And, as legislators consider new toll road routes, the rights of property owners must be protected.

Mass transit can also help ease traffic congestion by reducing the number of drivers on the road. I am proud to have authored Texas' first mass transit bill during my time in the state legislature, and I continue this advocacy in the U.S. Senate. Our cities have embraced light rail and bus services and are continuously expanding their transit capacity.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), for example, is a model of excellence in urban and suburban transportation. The organization has consistently finished its expansions on time and under budget, making it possible for me to secure a $700 million federal funding agreement for a new southeast/southwest rail line last year. The Houston METRO system is pursuing a similar grant agreement to serve the residents of Harris County, and I am pleased that projects to expand METRO were included in the President's Fiscal Year 2008 budget. In addition, Amtrak passenger rail links Texans to hundreds of destinations within our state and across the nation.

Transportation will remain a central issue as Texas continues to thrive. If we fail to meet the transportation needs of our growing population and booming economy, businesses and employers may relocate to areas with more suitable infrastructure. To ensure that Texas provides the best environment for business and its citizens, I will carry on my efforts to facilitate sustainable growth and keep transportation moving.

This column was provided by the office of Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.

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