The federal Highway Trust Fund, which is the largest single source of funding for Texas' 79,000 miles of roads, is on the brink of insolvency.
Unless Congress takes action, there will be a 34 percent cut in U.S. highway and bridge investment, which will cause our transportation infrastructure to deteriorate and our economy to suffer. I am working in bipartisan cooperation with other members of the Texas Congressional delegation to prevent this from happening.
In recent years, funding has been borrowed from the Highway Trust Fund for emergencies, like the devastating Minneapolis-St. Paul bridge collapse in 2007. These funds must be replenished in order to maintain the solvency of the trust fund.
If the federal Highway Trust Fund goes in the red, our state will be one of the biggest losers. Texas could expect nearly 30 percent less in highway maintenance and improvement funds for fiscal year 2009. Nearly 30,000 Texans would lose their construction jobs, the second greatest loss of any state. The decline in road capacity would also have a detrimental effect on our economy. The Texas Transportation Institute reports that congestion in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area already costs the local economy $2.7 billion in lost productivity and wasted fuel every year. Houston is not far behind with an annual loss of $2.3 billion.
In the Senate, I introduced a measure that will replenish the Highway Trust Fund and keep highway projects funded through 2009. The legislation must still be approved in the House of Representatives and signed by the President to go into effect.
However, we need a long-term fix.
When Congress does consider a permanent solution to maintain the solvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund, I will work to make sure Texas receives its fair share of transportation dollars. We've already made great strides in this area.
When I came to the Senate in 1993, our state received only 76 cents in transportation funding for every one dollar we paid in gas taxes. But in the years since, I have worked with my colleagues to increase our average annual funding by almost $800 million - or 92 cents on the dollar -making Texas second only to California in federal transportation support.
The money Texans pay should be used on Texas roads, and I will continue my efforts to secure a 100 percent return on our gas tax dollars.
In Texas, some of our new major projects may rely on toll funding in one form or another. I believe that tolls can be useful as one part of the solution when done with local input and consent. A perfect example is the George Bush Tollway in North Texas. But tolls should never be placed on highways that have already been paid for by Texas taxpayers. That would be a violation of the public trust. Although we need to solve our transportation problems, we must do it in a way that is fair and honorable to the people of Texas.
Businesses and communities depend on efficient, properly managed infrastruct ure, which allows people to live and work wherever they choose. We must work hard to find responsible solutions to our transportation needs to keep our residents safe and our economy thriving.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the U.S. Senator for the state of Texas. Readers may contact her via telephone at (210) 340-2885.