If you asked most people “what is the life-blood of Texas?” The first answer they would probably give you is “oil”. “Water” or “money” could likely come in as other popular answers.
The answer that more people need to consider? The life-blood Texas, or of any state is roads. Everyone in the Lone Star State depends on roads to get from point A to point B, to put food in grocery stores and restaurants, and to move other goods and services across the nation and the world. But from the recent inaction of the Texas Legislature, one wouldn’t know that roads are so important to a rapidly growing state. Here’s an interesting take from Aman Batheja of the Texas Tribune…
Among America’s biggest cities, Houston has emerged as a national leader in job growth since the recession, spurred by a low cost of living and a booming energy industry. Bob Harvey, president of the Greater Houston Partnership, an economic development group, regularly chats with local employers and those thinking about bringing new jobs to the city. Listening to complaints about Houston traffic comes with the territory.
But last summer, Harvey observed a shift. In conversations with business leaders, concerns about congestion began surfacing more frequently and with greater urgency.
“I can now pretty much count on it coming up in every conversation,” Harvey said late last year. “It’s just the furious amount of growth we’ve seen in the last couple of years that has overwhelmed that problem.”
Variations of Harvey’s experience can be found in other major Texas cities. As the state has outpaced the other 49 in economic growth over the last decade, Texas has seen a surge in its population that’s expected to continue for years to come.
But the prospect of 20 million more Texans by 2050 has both urban planners and business leaders worried that not enough is being done to prepare for the state’s more crowded future and the potential drag on the economy that might come with such grinding traffic.
“Population is going to double. Transportation doesn’t come anywhere close to doubling,” said Tim Lomax, a research engineer with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. “Is the congestion in the Texas cities going to get so much worse that instead of Texas being a place that attracts jobs, it becomes a place that repels jobs?”
It’s a burning question that everyone in the state needs to be asking. But the conversation starts with funding. Republicans in the legislature say that they do not support raising taxes to support Texas’ infrastructure needs, nor do they advocate for spending existing money such as that from the ‘rainy day’ fund. If the state doesn’t start trying to tackle this problem, it will hinder economic prosperity. More from the Texas Tribune…
In 1999, computer manufacturer Dell made headlines when it acknowledged that Central Texas traffic had contributed to its decision to expand in Tennessee rather than at its Round Rock headquarters north of Austin. Concerns that the company’s decision would be followed by a wave of copycats never materialized, but regional traffic problems remain a serious concern, said Jeremy Martin with the Austin Chamber of Commerce.
“It has impacted expansion opportunities,” Martin said, though he declined to give specifics. “Companies want to be close to where their employees live and want to make sure there’s adequate transportation and real estate available.”
“Adequate transportation” by most standards is not exclusively roads. Several Texas Metros, including Dallas and Houston are working hard to improve mobility in their respective regions. Both are investing heavily in various forms of public transit. Local solutions are critical to help the state’s traffic woes, but the legislature in Austin should not expect for municipalities to bear the full burden, or the cost of preparing for Texas’ future.
All the more reason to make transportation a central issue of the 2014 elections. Texas voters need to hear from state lawmakers about their plans for road and infrastructure funding, and need to know that those lawmakers have the political will to solve these issues. If roads are indeed our life-blood, let’s not wait for a heart attack.