Leaders push state infrastructure funding

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Transportation and construction experts, community representatives, and personnel from Texas Good Roads and the Dire States tour gathered Thursday at Amarillo Chamber of Commerce for a morning meeting to talk about ailing Texas infrastructure and how Proposition 1, a Nov. 4 ballot initiative, could affect transportation spending in Texas.

Proposition 1 would amend the Texas Constitution’s Transportation Funding Amendment. The amendment would divert an estimated $1.6 billion per year in oil and gas severance taxes from the state’s
multibillion-dollar rainy day fund to provide money for Texas Department of Transportation to update and maintain infrastructure around the state.

Kirby Carpenter, a strategic accounts manager for ASCO and president of Texas Good Roads and Transportation Association, a group dedicated to protecting and enhancing Texas highways, said “diverting funds” is an important distinction from “taking funds.” No money will be removed from the rainy day fund.

When asked about the de facto deficit, Carpenter said the rainy day fund will be available “someday” for “something,” but it is not helping anyone now.

“Getting money out and getting moving is the way we improve our circumstances,” he said.

State Rep. Four Price, R-
Amarillo, endorsed the amendment. “With millions more vehicle on our roadways, it’s incumbent that we address the challenges that that presents to us — the need for financing infrastructure that will support that growth — and I think Prop 1 is in line with that,” he said.

Dan McNichol is a fifth-generation road builder and an award-winning author who has penned several books on roads and transportation. He said Texas is at No. 47 in infrastructure spending among states, and the nation is failing itself.

McNichol has roamed the country in a rusty 1949 Hudson Commodore, educating people about the need for maintaining America’s roads and bridges on a voyage dubbed The Dire States Tour. He calls the car a “rolling metaphor” for the state of America’s infrastructure.

It’s as old and as rusty as Texas’ roadways and America’s infrastructure, he said.

“It’s a great way to say, ‘This is what the road and the bridge looks like that you’re driving on,’” Nichol said. “This is what your schoolhouse looks like, this is what your water pipes look like. Your aviation system is as old as my car is.

“We are 19th in the world, right behind Portugal, in our infrastructure and just 10 short years ago we were the best.”

McNichol thinks Proposition 1 will propel Texas from its current slump and possibly pull the rest of the country along with it.

“It’s a way for the rest of the country to fund its transportation systems,” he said. “If Texas goes big and wins, other states will follow.”

Proposition 1 has encountered remarkably little opposition to date. Bill Everman, a spokesman for Case Equipment and the Dire States tour, said he thinks that is due to an understanding that roads and bridges need dire maintenance in America.

“When people understand that need for additional investment and how it will affect the economy, how it will create jobs and how it creates pieces of commerce all around us, opposition to Prop 1, we are expecting, will be minimal.”

Amarillo has difficulty competing with larger cities around the state for transportation funding. The average commute in Amarillo is 17.7 minutes, according to city-data.com. Houston residents commonly spend almost 30 minutes in traffic.

Lawrence Olsen, executive vice president of Texas Good Roads, said Amarillo will definitely benefit from Proposition 1 funding.

“Amarillo will see a benefit,” Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Paul Braun said.

“Just how much, we don’t know.”

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