Finding that thanks to shortfalls the budget is not equipped to handle safety upgrades on paved roads, the Texas Department of Transportation began converting 80 miles of roads to gravel on Monday.
Texas DOT spokesman David Glessner told the Texas Tribune that a lack of funding meant its “only option to make [roads] safer is to turn them into gravel roads.” For safety reasons, some speed limits on the unpaved roads will also be lowered to 30 mph. The decision will particularly impact ranchers and farmers using rural routes ineligible for federal funds; naturally, they are unhappy about it.
According to America’s Infrastructure report card, 38 percent of Texas’s roads are in poor to mediocre condition.
The issue almost led the typically anti-tax Republican legislature to reconsider its stance. After three special legislative sessions, lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment that does not raise taxes, but asks voters to determine diverting money to a rainy day fund for transportation.
Texas Governor Rick Perry (R) applauded the decision to increase “funding for transportation without raising taxes.” However, even if approved, Texas will fall short of the $5 billion required a year to maintain the state’s roads.
Much of the damage to Texas’s roads has been caused by oil field equipment hauled across the state. Not only does Texas not have an income tax, slowing its economic growth, but it has not increased its gas tax in over 20 years, which would have helped fund the upkeep of roads.
Poor road conditions is not a problem unique to Texas, since the U.S. would need to spend $170 billion a year to fully upgrade all of its roads. Overall, the national infrastructure deficit stands at $3.6 trillion. That spending gap also hurts Americans in less transparent ways than stripping down roads by costing jobs and a tremendous amount of commute time.