News Column

Road Weary No More

Texans adopt a pair of constitutional amendments aimed at shoring up the state’s ailing road system.

By Tim Dougherty
January/February 2002

Of the 19 constitutional amendments approved by Texas voters in November, two in particular are likely to benefit cross-border trade and the state’s substantial Hispanic population, according to the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC). Proposition 2 authorizes the Texas Transportation Commission to issue $175 million in bonds to improve local roads along the Mexico border, while Proposition 15 provides for the creation of the Texas Mobility Fund to finance state highway and other transportation projects. The latter will be largely constituted of funds from the sale of bonds. Previously, the state had pursued a pay-as-you-go approach to building roads and funding other transportation projects. However, with Texas able to finance only about a third of its current highway needs through existing revenues, political pressure had been building to borrow money to speed road construction. Gov. Rick Perry, who has made the building of highways a cornerstone of his administration, actively campaigned for Proposition 15. A broad coalition of business, governmental, and transportation and planning organizations also endorsed the measure, citing economic needs. Among the latter were representatives of TAMACC, who countered opposition concerns about the expense associated with bonds by pointing out that the state’s highway needs are so pressing that further neglect could result in even greater costs in terms of lost economic opportunities. According to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the state currently has $6 billion in road improvements under construction and would need an additional $60 billion to meet all its highway needs over the next 10 years. “Clearly, our highway needs are greater than the funds being allocated. Proposition 15 will not only help the state’s economy, it will facilitate international trade by improving access to Mexico,” says TAMACC chairman Ricardo Calderon. NAFTA accounts for 16 percent of all truck traffic in Texas, according to TxDOT. One report cited by Proposition 15 supporters during the election campaign indicated that the Texas Mobility Fund could generate $26 billion in economic activity as a result of new infrastructure and job creation. Texans who went to the polls apparently found such arguments convincing; Proposition 15 ended up getting 68 percent of the vote. Proposition 2, which passed with 61 percent of the vote, will greatly benefit Texas’ rapidly expanding Hispanic border communities, the vast majority of which are without paved roads and basic services, according to Mr. Calderon. “We have half a million citizens on the border living in Third World conditions because they’re lacking proper infrastructure systems,” he says. Mr. Perry, who also campaigned on behalf of Proposition 2, has said that living conditions in the 23 counties along the border are an important issue for all Texans. Since the 1950s, more than 1,400 so-called colonia neighborhoods, housing more than 400,000 people, have been built along the border from Brownsville to El Paso. During the past 12 years, state agencies reportedly have spent more than $500 million to address water, sewer, and other infrastructure problems in the colonias, but many are served only by dirt roads. Texas’ border communities encompass eight local Hispanic chambers of commerce, according to Mr. Calderon. TAMACC plans to monitor the contracting process to ensure that Hispanic-owned firms get a share of the region’s Proposition 2-funded road improvement business.

Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

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