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Lacking Funds for Repair, Texas Unpaves its Roads

Unable to find funding to repair roads damaged by the booming oil industry traffic, Texas will convert asphalt roads to gravel. Texas's gas tax is among the lowest in the nation.
August 26, 2013, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Texas State Capitol building

Ian Floyd writes that the asphalt to gravel road bed conversions, announced by Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) officials on July 25, were expected to begin August 19, despite bi-partisan objection from county commissioners and state legislators.

The sharp increase in heavy traffic from a historic oil boom has damaged many farm-to-market roads in South and East Texas. The damage related to energy development has become so extensive that state and local authorities lack the funding to make all the repairs. 

The state's 20-cent gas tax, 40th lowest in nation (PDF) hasn't been raised since 1991. As for applying extra fees to energy companies whose trucks appear to be the major source of the road damage, they have "failed to gain traction", Floyd writes.

Along with the road bed conversion, posted speed limits will drop as well, wrote The Texas Tribune's Aman Batheja in the Star-Telegram last month. “Instead of whipping in at 70 miles per hour, they’ll have to move in there at 30 miles per hour,” TxDOT Deputy Executive Director John Barton said.

Some relief may be provided next year should Texas voters approve a constitutional amendment "to divert about $1.2 billion of oil and gas revenues from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to the state's highway fund", as we noted here on August 12. However, this measure merely shifts where existing energy taxes go within state government - it doesn't increase it.

According to Dug Begley and Peggy Fikac of Fuel Fix, all of the anticipated conversions may not have begun on Monday "after lawmakers raised concerns.  TxDot signaled a 60-day delay in some of the planned conversions of 83 miles of paved roads to gravel", they wrote on August 21.   

While Floyd and Batheja confine their reports to the rural roads known as "farm-to-market" roads in South and East Texas, the problem of not maintaining roads in Texas is more widespread, as we noted last year ("Unable to Maintain the Ones They Have, Texas Just Keeps Building New Roads").

While it's clear that trucks serving energy companies bear much responsibility for the deteriorating Texas roads, the same "asphalt to gravel" conversions of rural roads have been reported in other states such as Minnesota, Sonoma County in Calif., Michigan, and in one USA Today repost: Maine, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Vermont. What many share in common is the failure of states to increase road revenue, often illustrated by stagnant state gas taxes.

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Published on Monday, August 19, 2013 in The Texas Tribune
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