Massive economic development generated by West Texas’ bustling energy industry is also putting a strain on the area’s transportation infrastructure. A new state highway funding plan could help relieve that strain.
While efforts by area lawmakers to retain oil and gas severance tax revenue to help with increased transportation costs failed this past legislative session, the Midland/Odessa Transportation Alliance (MOTRAN) is letting West Texans know they have an opportunity to make their voices heard and help secure approval for transportation funding.
The Texas Department of Transportation is currently holding a public input period on its proposed transportation plan for West Texas.
The proposed Unified Transportation Plan (UTP) would dedicate $600 million in funding to the Permian Basin area over the next two years, with nearly $465 million of the plan already being obligated to fund certain projects. According to MOTRAN officials, TxDOT will be considering equivalent allocations each biennium for the next 10 years—which could total $3 billion in infrastructure spending.
Included in the proposed project would be $110 million towards construction of a new relief route in Pecos, $38 million towards adding passing lanes on U.S. 180 in Gaines and Dawson counties, and $243 million towards converting frontage roads on I-20 in Midland and Ector counties to one-way roadways and reconstructing interchanges to allow for future expansion of the interstate to a six-lane roadway.
Not all of the proposed improvements have been met without scrutiny, however.
At a heavily attended Midland luncheon held last week by MOTRAN regarding the details of the proposed plan, Winkler County Commissioner Hope Williams criticized various parts of the proposal, including sections regarding passing lanes and the addition of an outer loop in Lubbock for over $33 million.
“Passing lanes are not the solution,” said Williams, standing before the room speaking to TxDOT engineer John Speed. “Don’t believe me? Get on Highway 302,” she added. Highway 302 has a reputation for being an increasingly dangerous roadway due to its high volume of oil field-related traffic. Williams made the point that adding passing lanes to relieve traffic congestion didn’t work, calling them “suicide lanes.”
According to statistics provided at the meeting by the TxDOT engineer, every oil well produces a minimum of 500 “truck trips” to and from the drilling site. Twenty-five percent of the trucks are typically overweight, causing greater wear and damage to roadway surfaces, and 8 percent of industrial truck drivers stopped by law enforcement were driving without a commercial driver’s license.
The public input period for the UTP is open now until August 12, when TxDOT will meet mid-month to officially vote on the proposed plan.
MOTRAN is encouraging citizens to “flood the commission with support” for the transportation plan before the public comment period closes.
A link to the public involvement page for the Texas Department of Transportation can be found here.