The House Transportation Committee has issued its 68-page Interim Report to the 85th Legislature. Following up on study charges issued by the Speaker of the House, the report studies a number of topics and provides recommendations. The Legislature may take those recommendations into consideration but is not required to. The report is found in full at the link above. The topics and recommendations are:
Study the Texas Department of Transportation’s role in responding to natural disasters, specifically reviewing contraflow lane plans for major routes and technology that can minimize evacuation and travel times.
- TxDOT’s primary focus should continue to respond to emergencies and to restore roadways back to normal operating conditions. Regardless of whether federal reimbursement is available, there may be a need for TxDOT’s assistance. TxDOT’s decision to respond should not be based on the likelihood of its reimbursement.
- Potentially dedicate one lane for medical evacuation until all patients requiring medical transportation are confirmed to be out of the region. This action will decrease the risk of a critical patient being stranded for long periods of time in traffic that may not be flowing well. In addition, decreased transport times allow for overall faster evacuation of medical patients.
Examine the current framework for designating a project as a tolled road. Consider ways to reduce or eliminate the role of tolled roads in providing congestion relief given recent transportation funding measures approved by the Legislature.
- Allow other than “system” financing so a future project could be developed as a toll, but remove the toll when the individual debt for a project is retired.
- Immediately do away with at least two tolled projects: Camino Columbia in Laredo and Cesar Chavez, Loop 375 in El Paso, that have absolutely no debt associated with these projects where toll revenue has been pledged for any bonded indebtedness.
- Safety and congestion mitigation should be part of any analysis before a project is developed as a toll.
- Any monies advanced by TxDOT for a tolled project which generates revenue through tolls should pay back advanced monies to the state highway system.
- A plan should be adopted by the Texas Transportation Commission to absorb the maintenance cost of the state tolled roads into the overall statewide system.
Review the state’s statutory and budgetary requirements for design-build contracts, including cost and quantity restrictions, and consider the effect of removing those restrictions.
- It may be time for the Legislature to look at giving the Department of Transportation more flexibility with design-build (DB), while continuing the no private-sector financial contribution. Tight, specific project delivery and evaluation parameters should be considered more important than construction dollar minimums.
Review the functions of all departments in the Texas Department of Transportation related to alternative modes of transportation and make recommendations to improve their efficiency.
- Closely monitor the reconstruction of the Texas Pacifico’s requirement to reconstruct the International Rail Bridge.
- Have TxDOT determine if continued financial support of the Heartland Flyer is of economic and social benefit to Texas.
- Any statewide attempt to pre-empt local ordinances should ensure safety, security for passengers, drivers and pedestrians.
- Equity concerns for those who do not have smart phones or credit cards.
- Level playing field for taxi and other transportation providers who are being regulated by local ordinances needs to be considered.
- Background checks need to be consistent across taxi and other transportation providers.
Rural and Urban Transit Recommendations
- Amending statute to allow the Commission the flexibility by rule to use state public transportation grant funds on a limited (transitional) basis to address the impacts of the current decennial census urbanized area boundary determinations that resulted in rural areas previously eligible for state funds to have to establish service coverage agreements with existing transit authorities within the urbanized area. For example, last census New Braunfels went from a rural service area to being included within the San Antonio urbanized area and needed transitional funding to continue services until they could finalize a service coverage agreement with VIA.
- Creating a new category of transit districts in statute and securing additional funding for the new category would allow TxDOT and the Commission to recognize those urbanized areas with established urban transit districts whose population has grown beyond 200,000 but have not yet chosen to exercise their ability under current statute to re-form themselves as a transit authority with local sales taxing authority. By providing a dedicated category and funding for districts over 200,000 in population, additional funding would be available for urban transit districts currently receiving state funds. This would also mitigate impacts from additional transit districts anticipated to become eligible for urban transit district funding after the next census.
Evaluate local transportation funding mechanisms authorized by the state, such as transportation reinvestment zones, to determine their effectiveness. Identify methods for local entities to utilize these tools to improve congestion.
- TRZs are a useful tool for local governments to commit funding for a transportation project without raising taxes. County TRZs face legal impediments which make their use (and the use of CETRZs) potentially subject to legal challenge. The Legislature should consider a constitutional amendment to address the constitutional issue and allow counties to fully utilize the potential of TRZs (and to be able to use CETRZs to access the TIF), and should consider any other statutory changes that can address the issues raised in Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. KP-0004 (2016).
- A constitutional amendment that would provide the counties the ability to use TRZ’s by removing uniform taxation requirement for funding or financial backing (for bonds issued) for infrastructure projects.
Study the current statutory requirements for utility relocation and recommend modifications that will minimize delay times while protecting taxpayers and ratepayers.
- TxDOT should continue to hold workshops and early coordination on utility relocation. This is helping with certain utility companies.
- Give TxDOT the authority to enter into third party contracts to do the actual utility relocation for those utilities that refuse to do the relocation in a timely manner and bill the utility for the work.
- TxDOT should have the ability to withhold permits for any other utility work in any other part of the state when delays are not for good cause.
- Give local government the same ability as State Government with remedies for those utility companies who continue to ignore the delays and costs they cause that are not justified.
Review the areas currently designated as oversize or overweight corridors. Make recommendations to ensure that consistent measures are used to determine fee amounts, bond requirements, and gross weights allowable. Identify measures that may be taken to protect the quality of the roadway.
- Develop metrics for designation and monitoring corridors that include, economic impacts, safety, infrastructure impacts and local support.
- Require TxDOT to track infrastructure impacts of already designated OS/OW corridors and determine if the permit fees cover the pavement and bridge costs imposed by OS/OW trucks using the corridors.
- Safety impacts should be studied using available crash rates.
- Use permit data currently collected to estimate the economic impacts of designated OS/OW corridors.
- Define through legislation “corridor” especially as it may pertain to OS/OW vehicles.
- Minimum requirements for designation, assessment, collection of fees and performance measurement should be adopted. Safety concerns and congestion mitigation included.
- Authorizing the creation of an OS/OW corridor should only become effective once TxDOT determines that the corridor is capable of handling the estimated number of OS/OW vehicles.
- Caution should be paramount before any attempt, if any consideration to increase the allowance of oversize/overweight trucks due to the high degree of degradation to the roadway system in Texas is considered. Maintain the Federal Oversize / Overweight guidance for state and county roads as near as possible. Texas currently offers over 30 different OS/OW permits. Fees associated with OS/OW need a closer look at the direct wear on the road system commiserate with the charges.
Examine innovative transportation technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, to evaluate potential cost savings and ways in which they may reduce traffic congestion, promote safety, and increase economic productivity.
Develop a flexible policy framework by engaging the many state agencies involved as well as industry stakeholders. The state agencies involved would be the Texas Department of Transportation, Department of Public Safety, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Insurance, and the Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Steven Polunsky is a TTI research scientist.