Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Texas needs to take a serious look at its gas tax, which hasn't changed in nearly 20 years."

I-69: Congress, transportation officials apparently agree we need highway, but neither state nor nation will fund it


The Lufkin Daily News
Copyright 2009

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison last week said she had secured $500,000 to pay for more federal employees who could speed the environmental review process for a long-proposed Interstate 69 corridor that likely would pass through Angelina and Nacogdoches counties.

"For more than 15 years, the I-69 Corridor has been under development and has been consistently recognized by Congress as a national transportation priority," Hutchison's office wrote in a press release about the half-million dollars, which had not yet been approved by the full Senate. "Yet, the project's progress has been delayed considerably by the inability to get timely environmental reviews and clearances as required by federal law."
We beg to differ. The project has been delayed, more than anything, because neither the federal government nor the state of Texas has put its money where its mouth is and pay for the interstate.

The Texas Department of Transportation, it appears, would love to build I-69 but barely has the money, due to dwindling gas tax income, to fix the highways we already have, much less construct a multi-billion-dollar corridor from the Mexican border to Texarkana. As one TxDOT official said in an I-69 meeting Wednesday in Livingston, the interstate has been "cussed and discussed for a very long time."
Texas has backed away from Gov. Rick Perry's Trans-Texas Corridor concept, although the TxDOT officials at Wednesday's meeting said a shift in federal transportation thinking toward similar multimodal projects — namely, high-speed rail for passengers and freight — mean those ideas could be back on the table. So could two alternative funding methods: tolls (or "user fees," as they may be called from this point) and TIFs, which direct property tax increases to the road system. We suspect that neither of those funding ideas will fly in East Texas, especially among the property owners who felt so burned by the TTC-69 plans.

We agree with the gentleman from Humble who said at Wednesday's I-69 meeting that, before it accomplish anything, TxDOT needs to overcome the adversarial relationship it has with the state Legislature. And this may not the best time to be raising taxes, but we think Texas needs to take a serious look at its gas tax, which hasn't changed in nearly 20 years.

Sen. Hutchison, we appreciate the money you've set aside for I-69 before you take off to challenge Perry for his job. It's just that we know I-69 isn't going to happen until our state and federal transportation people get their ducks in a row. And most of those ducklings have wandered far away from the interstate.

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