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Extensive Challenges Call For Visionary Solutions

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Extensive Challenges Call For Visionary Solutions

Texas as a National Model for 21st Century Transportation

Texas is no stranger to big challenges, especially those that accompany our state's transportation needs. When I took office, congestion on the roads within and between Texas's major cities was already taking a toll on economic productivity and quality of life. As governor of a state that grows by more than 1,000 people per day (and recently surpassed New York in the number of Fortune 500 corporate headquarters), I am committed to ensuring our state's infrastructure is maintained so that our economic success continues. If we can't find a way to effectively move goods, services and workers around this state, the companies that have relocated here will leave just as fast as they came.

In the past 25 years, our state's population increased 57 percent and road use nearly doubled, but state road capacity grew by only eight percent. Over the next 25 years, I have every reason to believe that Texas population growth will persist, and a recent study predicted that road use will likely increase an astonishing 214 percent. However, according to plans currently on the books, capacity is projected to grow by a mere 6 percent. These daunting facts, combined with an estimated $86 billion transportation funding shortfall by 2030 due to inflation and an unreasonable federal gas tax structure, call for vision, innovation and a comprehensive overhaul to accommodate our state's projected growth.

Texas has made significant progress in addressing this challenge. I would argue, in fact, that we changed the ages-old paradigm of how our state addresses transportation needs. We brought local communities to the table and gave them new financing options through our regional mobility authorities. We instituted bonding so local authorities could leverage toll roads and extend the value of their tax dollars. And most importantly, we invited the private sector into the conversation for market-driven solutions to the funding challenge.

A particular innovation we have in the works is a plan to reduce traffic congestion in our urban areas, as opposed to just slowing the rate at which it worsens. Under the current system, cities are required by federal law to produce transportation plans based on the funding they expect to receive over the short-term from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees. However, in most places there's not enough funding to build what's needed to realistically reduce mounting gridlock. To answer this challenge, I worked with the Texas Transportation Commission, the Governor's Business Council and local and regional leaders to create the Texas Metropolitan Mobility Plan.

This plan enables Texas metropolitan areas to take an innovative step beyond the federal planning requirements and create a roadmap toward solutions. The mobility plan created powerful tools like the Texas Mobility Fund, which in 2004 helped contribute $3 billion in bond proceeds to accelerate the construction of key projects in the eight largest metro areas in Texas, which will enable 90 percent of the major metro highway projects planned for the next 12 years to be completed in half the time.

Our willingness to take creative steps like this means we aren't willing to settle for the status quo. The old pay-as-you-go system of building roads cannot keep up with the needs of one of the fastest growing states in the nation.

A decade ago, if I said there was a way to pay for all the roads Texas needed, if I had talked about a group of people who are eager to compete for the chance to spend their money to build our roads, many probably would have thought I'd lost my mind.

But the fact of the matter is, many financial institutions are willing to pay for the roads we need but can't afford, in exchange for the opportunity to recover their investment and make a profit over time. In fact, U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters recently estimated that roughly $400 billion dollars in private money is available worldwide for public infrastructure projects. It would be foolish for Texas to ignore such an opportunity. I am convinced that private dollars, administered through private-public partnerships, are a part of the answer to our transportation infrastructure challenge.

Such innovation can sometimes frighten those accustomed to the old way of doing things, those comfortable with the status quo. But the simple truth is: when it comes to roads, Texas needs more of them. And we need them now. We need leaders willing to think outside the box, to be innovative in their solutions, to take a chance.

I support our current direction because I believe it will work; however, I am the first to admit that it's possible we have not thought of every reasonable option. Many promising ideas have been brought to the table throughout this process and I am a strong proponent of keeping the lines of communication and negotiation open. I am willing and eager to listen to others' ideas and I am fully committed to working with state leaders to find that long-term sustainable result.

By ultimately solving this challenge, we will make a better tomorrow for our state. As governor, I am determined to help champion the cause of innovative thinking and the implementation of creative solutions. I am proud to be a part of a transportation plan that other states are looking to emulate and look forward to the day when our transportation system is no longer a roadblock to even greater economic prosperity.


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