Money running out to build new roads in Texas

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by SHELLY SLATER

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaashelly

WFAA

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 11:08 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 3 at 12:34 PM

Poll:
Are you willing to pay higher gasoline taxes for better roads?

DALLAS — Before you know it, the State of Texas will run out of money to build new roads.

It is a huge problem as traffic continues to multiply.

Take the downtown Dallas mixmaster for example. In the 1980s, 344,000 cars used the intersection of Interstates 35E and 30 every day. Today, that number has nearly doubled.

It's estimated that at least another 150,000 vehicles will be added to the mix by the year 2026.

So what about building new roads?

The Texas Department of Transportation has $26 billion in projects waiting in the wings in Dallas alone, but they could soon be scrapped.

Starting next year, the state is out of money for new roads.

Dallas commuter Shawn Williams is frustrated. His trip through the Dallas mixmaster is stop-and-go, and it's only going to get worse.

"I blame our elected officials and TxDOT," he said. "Everyone has other priorities."

News 8 has learned that Project Pegasus, the Dallas mixmaster improvement project, is coming to a screeching halt after decades of planning.

Why?

Next year, the money runs out; not just for Project Pegasus, but for any new road construction throughout the state.

It's a simple question, but no one seems to have the answer: "Why?"

"I don't think there is a simple answer to that question," said TxDOT spokeswoman Cynthia Northrop White.

"I don't know; I really don't," said Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt.

Hunt says the city does lobby lawmakers, but adds she is now pushing for a stronger presence in Austin to salvage projects that she considers basic for growth.

"Have we made it a priority and put our money where our mouth is? And have we requested state and federal funds be focused on that project instead of these illusory projects like the Trinity Tollroad?" she asked.

Ultimately it comes down to Austin.

State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) is on the transportation committee. "It will take a courageous effort by many to find funding," she waid, warning that otherwise there is "...no way forward."

Davis is pushing to increase fees for overweight vehicles, and she supports raising the gas tax, which hasn't been adjusted for inflation since 1993.

But the biggest bill on the floor of the Texas Legislature would give local municipalities the power to hold elections for specific projects. That way, taxpayers could make the call and know exactly where their money is going.

The bill failed in the last session, but it's up for discussion again.

Next year, TxDOT won't even have enough money to maintain the roads we already have. Their budget of $8 billion quickly becomes $7 billion, with $1 billion going to repay interest on bonds.

"What if we just increased efficiencies? Would that cover the shortfall? Stopping diversions... would that cover the shortfall? All these different issues we've talked about, I don't think it's all really come together," TxDOT spokeswoman Northrop White said.

Council member Hunt says the issue must be addressed. "It's one of the worst freeway congestion areas in the entire country," she said.

And commuters say that as long as leaders point fingers instead of pushing for solutions, they'll be stuck in traffic — waiting.

E-mail sslater@wfaa.com

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