Believe it or not, the state of Texas needs to spend money every year just to maintain current and ever-growing levels of traffic.
The Texas Department of Transportation needs at least $4 to 5 billion in additional funds to maintain roads and keep traffic from getting worse. In November, Texans will take to the polls to decide the fate of the agency's request via a constitutional amendment for the roadway funding.
While the sticker shock of that may not sit well with some, a new study says shaky infrastructure has an annual statewide cost of over $25 billion and Austin drivers an average of $1,700 a year.
The report from the Washington D.C. based transportation group TRIP studied conditions of Texas roads, including congestion levels…and put a dollar figure to it. The group's Carolyn Kelly says it ain't cheap.
"Texas roads and bridges that are deficient, congested or that lack desirable safety features cost the state's drivers in excess of $25 billion each year," Kelly says. "Here in the Austin area, the average driver loses nearly $1,700 each year as a result of driving on roads that are deteriorated, congested and not as safe as they could be."
But some help could be on the way this fall. In November, voters will have the chance to approve a constitutional amendment that allows half of the oil and gas severance tax collected for the state's rainy day fund to be diverted to TxDOT. El Paso State Rep. Joe Pickett says the state needs the money now.
"If we split that other half, it would be an immediate, and immediate infusion of somewhere around $1.4 billion a year in cash to help the transportation needs in the state of Texas."
He says that amount of money would be a big help for TxDOT, but he admits it's not enough. He says state lawmakers will need to do more in the 2015 legislative session to fund even more road projects.
Brandon Janes is chair of Transportation Advocates of Texas, a nonprofit made up of local governments, mobility coalitions and economic development groups. He'll be advocating for whatever changes will help send more money or freedom to local governments.
"There may be some additional movement on additional state revenue on a state-wide basis. But it's not going to be a big number," Janes says. "So you also have to add to that the unshackling of the counties and cities to be able to have more flexibility in how they fund their projects. And hopefully it will be a combination of both."
But, honestly, he's only expecting modest gains on both fronts.