Road Damage Costs Rising
When lawmakers convene in Austin next year, one of the issues they’ll have to face is how to pay for the billions of dollars in road damage from heavy trucks.
The number of overweight and oversize trucks on Texas roads has increased by the hundreds of thousands over the last 20 years, but especially in just the last few years.
A major reason is the surge in drilling for oil and gas. Trucks transport pipe, sand, water, and chemicals to thousands of new drilling sites. Drilling just one well can use more than 1,100 truckloads of material.
Some of the trucks are overweight. They are supposed to pay a special fee to compensate for the extra wear and tear they do to roads and bridges. But do they?
“With all the traffic, it’s destroying our roads,” said Carlos Garcia, administrator for Frio County just south of San Antonio. “Some are already completely destroyed.”
Garcia’s county is one of state’s hotspots for oil well drilling. He suspects that the trucks ripping up his roads aren’t all paying the fee.
“There’s not enough enforcement,” Garcia said
Garcia says later this month, Frio County will start training its own deputies to begin doing their own truck inspections.
The deputies may have their hands full. Earlier this year, the Texas Highway Patrol set up a temporary checkpoint in neighboring Dimmit County.
Offices found that of the 215 big trucks they stopped, 69 percent were in violation of safety regulations serious enough to be ordered off the road — a rate almost triple the state average.
“They’re not all overweight, could be a taillight that’s out,” said John Barton with the Texas Department of Transportation.
Barton said it’s not just a matter of getting truckers to buy the permits so they can operate legally, it’s what they pay for the permits.
“They have determined that the fees we are collecting today just are not sufficient to compensate for that increased consumption of pavement and bridges,” Barton said.
TxDOT has commissioned a study due next month, ahead of the legislature’s new session. The study will likely recommend increasing the fees for overweight permits.
John Esparza heads an association that represents Texas truckers.
“Once that’s made public, we’ll all get a chance to look at the study,” Esparza said.
How much do truckers pay for a permit to be overweight?
“Well, some are going to be as simple as a couple hundred bucks,” Esparza said, “and some will be as expensive as thousands of dollars.”
Esparza says he has no problem with truckers paying their fair share to fix the roads, but says truckers can’t pay for everything themselves.
“We’re talking about an awful lot of money,” he said, “and it’s not going to just be trucking where that money is going to come from.”
Already truckers this past year paid $147 million in overweight fees. But the extra cost of to fix the damage to state and local roads is running at over $2 billion a year.
Esparza says however the money is raised, taxpayers will end up paying more.
“Whether it’s prices at the pump or grocery store or WalMart, you name it,” Esparza said.
The pace of new drilling using a process called fracking may ebb and flow over the years but it’s likely to continue in places like Frio County for a least a couple decades.
“We welcome it,” Garcia said, “but we were not prepared for this.”
Garcia said repairing damaged roads is just the half of it.
‘’It’s getting to be very dangerous for our school kids,” he said.
He says they need expensive improvements like elevated crosswalks where truck routes run past schools. But he says they sure can’t afford it in his county that has a population of just 17,000, and with a poverty rate substantially worse than average.
Garcia says the state’s going to have to do something.