The True Cost of Texas Highways

An explainer of the monetary, environmental, and social costs of exuberant road building.

2 minute read

May 20, 2024, 10:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Aerial Texas Hill Country at sunset, with an aerial view of a highway interchange and Interstate 35 in Austin, Texas.

TxDOT plans to expand Interstate 35 in Austin, despite objections from local officials and community members. | Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock

Reporting for KERA, Nathan Bernier outlines how the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which spends more on highways than any other state, funds its road projects. In the last ten years alone, Texas added 700 miles of new highways.

As Bernier explains, “The money for highways comes from a mix of gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, state sales taxes, levies on oil and gas companies and federal funds — which includes a big chunk of money from personal income taxes.” Historically, highways have been funded via a consumer gas tax that goes into the federal Highway Trust Fund. Now, federal dollars make up a smaller percentage of state’s road funding, and the Highway Trust Fund routinely runs out of money. “The federal gas tax — now 18.4 cents a gallon — hasn’t risen since President Bill Clinton's first year in office. The Texas gas tax is even older, frozen at 20 cents a gallon since 1991.”

Texas voters supported additional highway funding through several measures, letting the state dip into its Rainy Day Fund and allocating part of the state sales tax to road projects.

However, it’s not just about construction costs. “The true cost also includes external factors like traffic congestion, displacement, environmental impacts, and land use changes, all of which affect local communities.” Additionally, highways encourage sprawling suburbs and inefficient land use and prioritize driving over transit and other forms of transportation.

Monday, May 20, 2024 in KERA News

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