TxDOT Director Calls for Stable Highway Funding System

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Wendy Davis
Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth).

As lawmakers consider new highway construction this session, Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) warned this morning that they need to address TxDOT’s huge debt repayments as well.

At the Senate Transportation Committee’s first meeting Wednesday morning, Davis said it’s important to strike a balance as they decide ”whether we’re going to create the revenue sources needed to provide the infrastructure that the state so desperately needs.”

TxDOT has accumulated almost $13 billion in debt since it first started borrowing from the general revenue fund in 2004, Wilson told senators earlier this month. Nine years later, it’s still paying off that debt.

TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said the agency needs at least $4 billion more each year to cover road expansion and upkeep. The proposed $20.8 billion budget would set aside just under $2.5 billion to repay debts, but caps the new construction budget at just over $1 billion.

“I think that really puts in perspective the situation that TxDOT finds itself in today, with an extremely large amount on the debt service side and a limited amount on the new construction side,” Davis told Wilson. “In my perspective we’ve really gotten upside-down in terms of providing the support for this agency that’s needed, and for you to conduct what we expect you to do.”

Gov. Rick Perry has proposed spending $3.7 billion from the Rainy Day Fund on Texas transportation, but that would still come up short of Wilson’s request for TxDOT. Perry has suggested spending the money on building new highways and bringing old roads up to code for projects like Interstate 69.

What TxDOT needs, Wilson said today—and wrote in a letter to Lt. Governor David Dewhurst—is a new, sustainable transportation funding source.

Tying money to deadlines for particular projects, Wilson said, can make it hard to follow through on a long-term for Texas roads. “Transportation funding that has been provided in fits and starts does not substitute for a stable, long-term financing source,” he said.