The Texas Department of Transportation has said it needs $4 billion annually to maintain current road conditions and accommodate future growth. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says funding — or lack thereof — is the key issue for transportation in Texas.
"We have a whole lot more projects that we need to do than can be paid for under the current finance system. We're lucky in Harris County, and it's hard to say you're lucky because you get to pay tolls, but imagine where we would be if we didn't have our toll road system — no Beltway 8, no Hardy, no Westpark, no I-10 managed lanes — we would be in a real mess."
Emmett says he feels good about the general state of transportation in Harris County, but not so much at the state level. He says the problem is many people in Texas oppose any kind of increase in fees or taxes, which are needed to improve infrastructure and therefore grow the economy.
"If they don't do something to increasing funding for highway and other transportation improvements, they will only have enough to maintain the current system. There will be no new roads built anywhere in the state of Texas, and if that's the case, how are we're going to continue to grow?"
State Rep. Allen Fletcher is a Tea-Party Republican whose district is in northwest Harris County. He says it's important to explain to constituents and new legislators that even some decisions that involve tax or fee increases can be beneficial for everyone when it comes to transportation.
"You know, I've tried over the last couple of years to say being conservative doesn't mean saying 'no.' I'm trying my best to explain to the folks that we're trying to be good stewards of our money, but the truth is it costs money and it takes the support of our business community."
He says public-private partnerships are also key for transportation projects in Texas.
In its last session, the state Legislature approved a constitutional amendment that would increase transportation spending by about $1.2 billion per year. Voters will be asked to approve the measure next November.