Category Archives: TxDOT

Completing Texan Streets

Texas was rated #1 for best American roads in 2005 and 2006 but it seems that roads are rated on purely on automobile-centric views (i.e., Poor mileage, deficient bridges, fatalities, and congestion).  Complete Streets however takes a more holistic approach to road creation.

What are Complete Streets?

Complete Streets wants to make roads safer for all forms of transportation, revitalize economies by being more accessible, raise real-estate by providing nicer roads, and to change the psychology of the roads away automobile-centrism.  Between 2000 and 2009 47,000 pedestrians were killed in the United States or essentially 5,200 per year.  13% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians with minorities and elderly at disproportionally high rates, but if more roads were Complete Streets that number could be greatly reduced.

So what is Texas doing?

Some Complete Streets can already be seen in the Lone Star State as San Antonio rolls out its new transportation plan that allows for a more flexible construction of roads to fit the needs of the area, is turning to more green ways to dispose of storm water, and will hopefully revitalize the area.  The actual Resolution can be found Here.

Austin has made its own strides in increasing pedestrian and cyclist accessibility with Resolution No. 020418-40.
Texas as a whole is almost keeping stride with San Antonio and Austin as TxDOT recently adopted more pedestrian friendly standards and Senate Bill 513 and House Bill 1105 are in the state legislature calling for the state to adopt even stronger “Complete Streets’” standards.  This would include amending TxDOT’s  policies to allow local authorities to have more sway in road design and construction.  Bike Texas is currently trying to get the bills passed in 2013 session, if you’re interested in helping pass the bills with Bike Texas shoot an email at advocacy@biketexas.org.  They also provide a list of representatives who voted for or against the bill on their site.

How are Complete Streets made?

Complete Streets doesn’t just advocate making new roads; fiscally it makes more sense to add in bike lanes whenever the roads are being redone or fixed.  Everything from sidewalks, to bike lanes, to turning lanes can be added to make a street more complete.  If you want to get involved you can plug in to complete streets directly, lobby your city council to pass a complete streets resolution as San Antonio and Austin have done, or even partake in “guerilla-complete streets as “Better-Block Project” did in Dallas in the videos below.

Want to know more information?  Below are some cool links!

Complete Streets Slideshow Presentation

San Antonio Ordnance for CS

San Antonio – Complete Streets Article

Unfunded Mandate or Sound Economic Principal

Previous TGR Blog Post

-Keegan Taylor,  Beyond Coal Intern

82nd Legislature: New Laws for Rail

There are three new regulations for rail: one for emergency rolling stock for freight, one for commuter rail districts, and one for high speed passenger rail safety.

HB 1750 allows the Executive Director of TxDOT to lease rolling stock and to contract with a rail operator to operate rolling stock if the executive director determines that either a natural or man-made emergency exists that threatens the health, life or property where the rail facility is located.

As noted at a report on the legislation at the Texas Transportation Commission, this is the direct result of the bumper crop season Texas farmers experienced in 2010. At the time, the lessee of the TxDOT-owned rail line was not able to provide adequate service, and TxDOT did not have explicit authority to procure an alternative operator on an emergency basis. Much of the crop was transported by truck.

HB 3030 defines commuter rail as “the transportation of passengers and baggage by rail between locations in a district.”

Only intermunicipal commuter rail districts formed before January 1, 2005 are affected by this law. This includes Houston Metro, Dallas DART, the Trinity Railway Express (TRE), CapMetro Rail, the Lone Star Rail DIstrict between Austin and San Antonio, the East Texas Corridor Council, and the Northeast Texas Rural Rail Transportation District (NETEX). It excludes the Hidalgo Commuter Rail District, the Denton County A Line, and others formed after January 1, 2005.

The law allows a transportation infrastructure zone of a district established before January 1, 2005, to consist of a contiguous or noncontiguous geographic area. The area must be in the territory of one or more local governments and must include a commuter rail facility or the site of a proposed commuter rail facility.

The tax increment fund also receives revenue from the sale of tax increment bonds and the sale of any property acquired as part of a plan adopted to use tax increment financing.Provisions for the tax increment bond financing of commuter rail districts is included as well. A local government member of a commuter rail district may issue tax increment bonds or notes, including refunding bonds, secured by revenue in the local government’s tax increment fund.

HB 3771 authorizes TxDOT to adopt safety standards for high-speed passenger rail, defined as service over 185 miles per hour, and to impose fees on the railroad companies to recover the costs of related administration.

-Kari Banta, Transportation Associate

82nd Legislature: Transportation Funding

Since financial matters are of great public concern now, here’s a look at how TxDOT fared with regard to funding for the 2012-2013 biennium.

TxDOT was fortunate in the current economic climate and received most of what they requested. For the 2012-2013 biennium, TxDOT will receive $19.8 billion in appropriations. This is a $3.9 billion increase over the last biennium, since $1 billion was never approved for the State Infrastructure Bank in 2011. Most of this increase comes from the remaining Prop 12 bond proceeds of $4 billion.

Prop 12 bonds were approved by Texas voters in 2007, and allowed the Legislature to issue up to $5 billion in general obligation bonds for transportation. Normally transportation funds come from Fund 6—proceeds from the fuel tax, federal monies, etc.–so this marked a departure from norm. In addition, the Prop 12 funds were designated to be used for non-tolled projects.

The Prop 12 will be distributed to the following projects:

  • $300 million goes to development of future mobility projects in the four most congested regions of the state: Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, Houston, San Antonio and Austin.
  • $500 million goes to specific bridges listed in the bill.
  • $600 million goes to improving urban and metro mobility. These funds will be divided among the MPOs.
  • $200 million goes to enhance connectivity, as allocated by the Texas Transportation Commission.
  • $1.4 billion goes to rehabilitation and safety improvements, to be distributed by TxDOT’s Category 1 Preventative Maintenance and Rehabilitation formulas.

The use of Prop 12 and Fund 6 appropriations require submission of a detailed plan that includes impacts to the State’s economy, traffic safety, congestion reduction, and pavement ratings. As of this biennium, the Legislative Budget Board does not have to approve the plan.

Diversions of funds from TxDOT increased from $1.15 billion to $1.28 billion. Most of this money goes to the Department of Public Safety.

TxDOT is currently searching for a new executive director, and HB 1 has allowed the department to offer as much as $292,500 in annual salary for a suitable prospect.

The next installment of this series on transportation changes from the 82nd Legislature will look at several smaller bills. If there’s a particular bill you’d like to see, leave a comment and I’ll try to accomodate.

Kari Banta

82nd Legislature: Impacts on Transportation (First in a Series)

The Texas Green Report will run a series of articles to help everyone understand the new transportation laws that resulted from the 82nd Legislature regular and special session. A report containing more specific information on all of the bills will be published at the conclusion of this series.

TxDOT Sunset (SB 1420)

This bill addresses many of the concerns expressed in the 2009 Sunset Review and the interim report. These include transparency, accountability, fraud, waste, ethics rules and financial responsibility. Planning processes must include measurable goals and a participation plan that accounts for all stakeholders and the public.

Design-build authority is granted in the bill. The number of design build projects let cannot exceed three per year (this limit expires in 2015). Design-build, quoting from the bill, “means a project delivery method by which an entity contracts with a single entity to provide both design and construction services for the construction,   rehabilitation, alteration, or repair of a facility.” The usual process is to let the design for the facility and then to let it for bids for implementation. This eliminates one of the letting processes.

TxDOT receives additional authorization for Comprehensive Development Agreement implementation. A comprehensive development agreement (CDA) enables financing and private investment in the transportation system, often for toll facilities.  CDA authority was provided for 11 projects mainly in the metropolitan areas of the state: four in Houston area, three in North Texas, two in Central Texas, and two in South Texas. Except for the Grand Parkway, environmental clearance of a project must be achieved before August 31, 2013 on the projects. And, except for the Grand Parkway, the CDA authority expires August 31, 2015.

The Texas Transportation Commission must establish standards to process environmental review documents. These standards must “increase efficiency, minimize delays, and encourage collaboration and cooperation by the department with a local government sponsor, with a goal of prompt approval of legally sufficient documents.” The bill also gives TxDOT review deadlines and time frames for dispute resolution.

There is no change to the composition of the Texas Transportation Commission. It remains at five members designated by the Governor. At least one of the Commissioners must be from a rural county (fewer than 150,000 population).

Emergency transportation management issues were also addressed. TxDOT now has authority to designate wildfire evacuation routes on federal, state and county roads.

The Highway Beautification Fund was moved into the State Highway Fund from the General Revenue Fund. TxDOT must now administer the outdoor sign program.

TxDOT will undergo review again in 2015 to monitor progress on the changes. This is significantly shorter than the usual twelve year period between Sunset Reviews.  Massive restructuring and internal policy changes called for in the previous Sunset review and interim report benefit from more frequent monitoring and evaluation.

Kari Banta, Transportation Associate