You’ll often hear local elected officials blaming Austin for its transportation woes. And with the Texas Department of Transportation’s plagued history of over-spending and under-performing, that’s no surprise. Yet over the next decade, the agency is likely to double its spending due to changes that increase transportation funding, like Propositions 1 and 7. With an expanding budget and project scope, it’s also no surprise that – once again – it was put under review by the Texas Sunset Commission.
In the Sunset Review, the commission attempts to create an outline of ways in which TxDOT can improve and prepare for the transition ahead. The ten issues addressed and their subsequent recommendations range widely – from improving transparency and project prioritization to smaller technicalities such as updating statutes and further expanding opportunities to disadvantaged businesses.
Issue 1: “TxDOT’s Progress Toward a More Transparent, Performance-Based Transportation Planning Process is Far from Complete.” Recommendations include creating consistent and comprehensive goals, revising funding allocation methods and project prioritization, improving project tracking reports both internally and publicly, and expanding accountability measures via a joint oversight committee.
Issue 2: “TxDOT Must Quickly Finalize Ongoing Project Development Fixes to Eliminate Backlogs and Prepare for the Future.” Recommendations include improving management of projects by implementing a new review process, regularly analyzing performance, and expanding communication with the public on project plans and progress (especially stakeholders).
Issue 3: “TXDOT Lacks Critical Contract Oversight Tools to Efficiently Spend Billions in Taxpayer Dollars and Better Deliver Construction Projects on Time.” Recommendations include the implementation of remedies and incentives that would improve project timeliness and quality in order to better utilize tax dollars and lessen road construction headaches for drivers.
Issue 4: “TxDOT Has Not Taken Proactive Steps to Improve Contracting Opportunities for Disadvantaged Businesses.” Recommendations include improving goals, support, and general opportunities for small, minority-, and women-owned businesses.
Issue 5: “TxDOT’s Process Improvement Efforts Lack Clear, Measurable Results.” Recommendation asks that TxDOT better coordinate and track business process improvement efforts and suggests using the same tracking system used by the Texas Workforce Commission.
Issue 6: “TxDOT Does Not Effectively Oversee or Support Its 25 Districts” Recommendations include improving communication and support of districts while maintaining active and consistent oversight.
Issue 7: “The State’s Aging Aircraft Fleet Raises Questions About Its Future and Requires More Accountability for Its Use.” Recommends analyzing and creating a long-term plan for the future of the state aircraft fleet as well as prioritizing cost-effectiveness over convenience in regards to use of the fleet.
Issue 8: “Paper Crash Reports Increase Administrative Costs and Limit the Reliability and Timeliness of Vital Safety Data.” Recommendation made to submit all crash reports electronically.
Issue 9: “Texas Has a Continuing Need for the Texas Department of Transportation.” Recommendation made to continue TxDOT for 12 years.
Issue 10: “The Department’s Statute Does Not Reflect Standard Elements of Sunset Reviews.” Recommendations include updating TxDOT’s statute, discontinuation and modification of certain reporting requirements, and expanding its efforts to hire small, minority-, and women-owned businesses.
TxDOT’s Sunset Review states that the agency has faced “a decade of intense legislative scrutiny including multiple sunset reviews, frequent leadership changes, and continuing organizational flux . . .” However, the funding increase currently faced by the agency is unprecedented and without question will require change if it plans to keep pace with the state’s transportation needs.
The next public meeting to address this review is tentatively scheduled for December 8th and 9th, with a final meeting tentatively scheduled for January 11th.