Texas’ economy came to a near-standstill amid the COVID-19 pandemic and suffering the ramifications of a plunge in energy activity and oil and gas prices.
But that doesn’t eliminate the need to invest in the state’s roads, according to the Texas Association of Business. The association brought its Keep Texas Moving coalition to the Permian Basin region on Monday through a virtual launch via Zoom. The coalition is comprised of small and large businesses, local chambers of commerce, truckers, commuters and local leaders seeking ways to improve the most gridlocked of the state’s roads.
“Texas is expected to grow by 12 million people, to over 40 million by 2040; the economy is expected to more than double by 2050,” said Aaron Cox, senior vice president with the TAB.
“Texas is adding over a thousand people and hundreds of vehicles a day. The increase in commercial traffic is testimony to the quality of life in Texas and the economic opportunities in Texas,” Cox said. “We need to pay attention and bring about solutions to our transportation needs.”
Even though Texas lawmakers and voters approved two propositions dedicating portions of the oil severance tax and motor vehicle sales tax to highway funds, Cox said those needs have outstripped the available funding.
“Roads are not keeping pace. That was true even before the state was hit by the double-barrel assault of COVID-19 and the worldwide fall in oil prices. COVID-19 and low oil prices are reducing the source of revenues – severance taxes, motor vehicle sales taxes and gasoline taxes,” he said.
That is why the coalition is calling for private-public partnerships, known as P3s, to implement road improvements such as tollways paid for by motorists who choose to use them. Under these partnerships, Cox said new highways and highway expansions could be designed, built and completed years sooner at no cost to the public. In addition, he said they would create jobs and stimulate local economies.
Midlander James Beauchamp, president of the MOTRAN Alliance, said projections are that the entire Permian Basin region could see an additional 725,000 to 750,000 new residents in the next 30 years.
“It’s important to get ahead of the curve,” he said.
Though Cox mentioned tollways as a way to fund investment in transportation, Beauchamp said the vast majority of projects needed for this region are not viable as tollways. Still, he said, public-private partnerships would benefit the region, and all options, including tollways, should be available.
“You don’t want anyone taking tools out of your toolbox, but you want people to be able to use those tools where appropriate. If they can use those tools, though it’s not of use to us, we want them to have that ability and succeed like we hope they want us to succeed,” Beauchamp said.
Although it is home to only 2 percent of the state’s population, the region provides 10 percent of the state’s revenues, Beauchamp said.
“Our recovery, our success has an exponential impact on the rest of the state,” he said.
Beauchamp said he is looking for ways to connect the Permian Basin to regions such as the Port of Corpus Christi that will provide fuel for the area’s economic growth. There is time to develop such projects, but the time is now to begin the planning process, he said.
“The pandemic has certainly had a huge impact on us all in a variety of ways,” Cox said. “As it relates to this coalition, I believe it reinvigorates us and lets us move forward in a way that can be helpful. We know funding is down, transportation dollars are declining, and the revenue base is declining. We need to deploy every tool in the toolbox that we can to make projects happen. That allows the state to utilize private dollars to build a lot of these roads that are needed and free up public funds for other needs like healthcare, education and disaster preparedness.”
The Texas economy will recover, and when it does, “traffic will be back, and I can guarantee it will be back with a vengeance,” Cox said. “That’s why we need to address this today.”