Report: TxDOT not ready to handle influx of new road funds

Texans deserve better than they’ve been getting for their multi-billion dollar investments in TxDOT. The legislature and Sunset must engage in constant oversight and a shorter review timeframe. While some progress has been made, TxDOT has a long way to go before public trust is fully restored. Customers need to become king, and that can’t happen without significant, broad changes in the culture and operation of TxDOT.

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By Terri Hall l January 4, 2017

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The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) continues to struggle to meet even the minimum standards of public expectations as evidenced in the Texas Sunset Commission staff issuing yet another scathing report revealing the agency isn’t ready to handle the $50 billion in new highway funds coming online thanks to the Texas voters.

In Texas, state agencies come up for sunset review every so often, and with TxDOT, it’s been more often than not with three sunset reviews in less than 10 years. Whether it’s the continued push for unwanted toll roads, failure to deliver the big projects desperately needed to alleviate congestion in urban areas, or how it interacts with the public, TxDOT remains lacking in all key areas seen and felt by the public on a daily basis.

While the culture inside TxDOT has begun to change under its new governor and new highway chairman, the fundamental views about the public, project delivery, and project management have seen little progress, from the public’s perspective.

TxDOT has utterly failed to allocate funds and deliver substantial progress on the highest priority projects, especially in urban areas. The staff report states: “When selecting and prioritizing projects, TxDOT’s approach tends to validate the status quo instead of ensuring the highest-priority projects receive the most focus and attention . . . TxDOT’s current approach to prioritizing projects does not actually serve as a tool to evaluate which projects are strategically best, but rather works backwards to validate projects that are already in development.”

Deciding what projects get to advance over others has an impact on commuters on a daily basis and will lock-in funding scenarios for the next decade. If TxDOT does not get it right, commuters will face yet more toll roads and possible loss of control over public infrastructure by having to rely on privately financed and operated toll roads in order to get any relief.

Texans cannot wait another 12 years to fix these multi-billion dollar problems. Voters gave TxDOT the funding they needed to fix our highways with passage of both Prop 1 and Prop 7 by overwhelming margins in 2014 and 2015.

Governor Greg Abbott expressly directed and promised Texas commuters that Prop 1 and Prop 7 funds would go to the most congested roads. He also promised to fix Texas roads without raising taxes, fees, more debt or tolls. Yet, many toll roads continue full steam ahead.

TxDOT’s responsiveness to the public and the public feedback at public hearings or commission meetings has not improved in any meaningful way despite a decade of controversy, litigation, sunset reviews, a management audit, and significant reform legislation.

The staff report concludes: “As currently structured, TxDOT’s project development process is not meeting expectations and is not prepared to effectively handle the influx of new transportation funding projected to double over the next decade. TxDOT has not met key on time or on-budget measures for several years . . . requiring additional and continuing attention and oversight. TxDOT has a long history of problems with no quick fixes.”

It’s incumbent upon the legislature to fix these problems, and kicking the can down the road for another 12 years before TxDOT undergoes another sunset review fails to hold the agency accountable. It’s too late to fix it if they’ve already misspent $50 billion in new funding.

Texans deserve better than they’ve been getting for their multi-billion dollar investments in TxDOT. The legislature and Sunset must engage in constant oversight and a shorter review timeframe. While some progress has been made, TxDOT has a long way to go before public trust is fully restored. Customers need to become king, and that can’t happen without significant, broad changes in the culture and operation of TxDOT.


Terri Hall is the founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom (TURF), which defends against eminent domain abuse and promotes non-toll transportation solutions. She’s a home school mother of ten turned citizen activist. Ms. Hall is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis, of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.