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Despite funding increases at the federal and state level, Texas’ highway conditions have worsened in recent years, a new report from a nonpartisan transportation infrastructure group found.
Repair Priorities, an annual report put out by a nonpartisan group focused on influencing transportation spending, analyzes how states and the federal government spend money on highway maintenance and expansion. The report said most states—including Texas—have spent too much on highway expansion and too little on road maintenance.
The report, based on data reported by the Federal Highway Administration, found that about 11 percent of Texas roads were reportedly in poor condition in 2017, a 3 percent increase from 2009. The report blamed the increase on the state prioritizing expanding highway networks instead of spending on repair for already existing roads.
Officials at the Texas Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for federal highway construction and maintenance, said the report oversimplifies how the state spends its money on road maintenance.
“The report takes a very simplified look at some high-level statistics and attempts to relate them to conclusions on the topic of ‘Road Repair and Preservation,’” said Marc Williams, the agency’s deputy executive director. “It does not comprehensively account for all of the factors involved in fully understanding the issue.”
Between 2009 and 2014, Texas averaged just over $7 billion in state government-authorized highway spending per year, and almost half of that money went toward highway expansion, which includes new road construction or adding of new lanes onto existing roads. Texas has more highway miles than any other state in the nation, the report shows.
“They’re spending a solid chunk of their money to build more without really a plan for maintaining it,” said Beth Osborne, director of Transportation for America, the group which put out the report.
According to the report, 37 other states are seeing similar decreases in overall road quality at the expense of over-investment in expanding roads. Nationally, the percentage of roads in poor condition rose from 14 to 20 percent between 2009 and 2017.
Osborne pointed out that Texas has done better than the national average, but she said that because of the state’s preference for road expansion, it may be unable to sustain the entire road system.
“I would say that Texas has done a better job of maintaining its assets according to this data, but they’re going in the wrong direction,” Osborne said.“...They’re not spending on repair first, they are claiming that they don’t have a lot of money to spend on repair of rural roads but they are showing us what they’re priority is.”
Osborne said the money being spent typically comes from a mix of federal and state funds.
Texas’ Williams disputed the idea that the state road priorities are misguided.. He said the transportation department aims to take a “balanced approach” to the state’s transportation needs.
“We have committed to spending $4.75 billion annually to maintain our roadways, with more than $900 million of that going toward rural road maintenance,” Williams said.
Over the past decade, Texas’ highway expansion projects have prioritized widening roads for congestion relief on interstates and at “major bottlenecks.”
“Importantly, many of these projects involve significant investment to rehabilitate aging infrastructure in conjunction with expansion efforts,” Williams said. “This includes bridge and pavement reconstruction and upgrading safety features and design standards.”
Osborne said that the onus to shift priority to road repair isn’t only on state transportation departments but rather on lawmakers at every level as they look at crafting infrastructure budgets for the coming years.