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TxDOT Commissioner Says New Funding Could Change Reliance On Toll Roads

City of Arlington
Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck presents a volunteerism award to Victor Vandergriff in 2011.

In addition to the many candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot, Texans are voting on a constitutional amendment known as Proposition 1. If it passes, a portion of oil and gas tax money flowing into the state’s rainy day savings account will be used for transportation.

Officials, however, warn that Proposition 1 will only provide part of the $5 billion needed each year just keep traffic gridlock from getting worse. KERA’s Shelley Kofler talked with Texas Transportation Commissioner Victor Vandergriff of Arlington about other options, including toll roads.

Following are excerpts from the conversation:

Kofler:  There may be nothing that gets drivers a hotter than toll roads.  Are they here to stay and will they become the primary way we pay for new roads?

Vandergriff:  I think they have become the primary way we pay for new roads at this point.  Even if we get the $5 billion a year, I’m not predicting we won’t still continue to use toll roads and managed lanes.  I do see us being more selective.  I see them as a supplementary or complementary use for moving transportation needs forward versus a primary use.

Kofler:  There are a number of Texans who believe if the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) just became more efficient we wouldn’t need new toll roads or extraordinary methods for financing new roads.  Do you think TXDOT is efficient?

Vandergriff:  No agency is 100 percent efficient so, yes, there is room for improvement.  What I am saying is that I think the people there are very good at what they do.  Their chief problem is a lack of resources and funding. 

Kofler: Do you see anything else on the horizon besides building new roads that will address this need for more capacity?

Vandergriff:  The Texas Central Railway company is proposing to build a high-speed rail connection between Houston and Dallas.  They hope to have financial close by the end of 2016, construction starting in 2017 and being open in like 2021, 2022.  It’s all privately funded. If that’s successful and you have a train that can travel people from Houston to Dallas in 90 minutes that is a potential huge game changer.

That will certainly impact the need or the desirability for additional road capacity if that works.

Driverless cars apparently look to be more and more a reality at some time in the next few years.

Different ways in which you use materials to construct roads or to maintain roads, I think that has a potential to radically reduce costs.  Those are things that over time will I think be very helpful.

Developers of the high-speed railway between Houston and Dallas will hold the first of a series of community meetings today. This one is at the Dallas Infomart beginning at 4:30.  A full schedule of meetings is on the company website.