Less Money for Roads in the Future

Houston commuters may have to put up with crowded highways and bumpy roads just a little bit longer. Regional transportation planners are looking at less money for road projects in the coming years. But the public can add their opinion on what's important-and what's not. From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez has more.

To save the environment and to save money, our cars are getting more miles to the gallon than ever before.  But that means we're not paying as much in gas taxes.  And THAT means that the state doesn't have as much money to fix the roads.  Pat Waskowiak of the Houston-Galveston Area Council, says planners want to hear the public's priorities, given that situation.

"What are we prepared to do locally to face our funding situation, how important is transportation? Are people more worried about having a job than about how they get to that job?"

Every 4 years, the HGAC draws up the Transportation Improvement Program, a list of all the transportation projects that will be funded in the eight county Houston region.  This year, Waskowiak says, the TIP-as it's called-has to focus on a few big projects.

"So what that means is that improvements that were planned on other streets aren't happening. That's been the real challenge with this TIP is that we simply don't have enough money to go around."

The TIP calls for about $300 million to improve traffic flow where US 290 hits 610 going inbound, and begins the first segment on the Grand Parkway, an arc of road out west beyond Beltway 8.  There's also money allocated for public transit and pedestrian and bike accommodations.

But the TIP is in the last week of public comment, and not everyone agrees with the priorities.  Brandt Mannchen, a volunteer with the Sierra Club, prefers that money not be spent on the Grand Parkway, but rather, on alleviating congestion on 290.

"The segments of the Grand Parkway that they're talking about putting in, in many of those segments there's not very many people out there. So from our perspective, we want to put the transportation dollars where the people are, and where the congestion is."

Waskowiak answers that the region is rapidly growing, and roads have to keep up with where people are moving to.  But Mannchen is also concerned about the public comment process.  He says that the TIP is confusing for the average commuter, and he's not confident that the planners will hear residents' concerns.

"The deadline for public comment is the day before the Transportation Policy Council votes on it. So they're not going to have any time to get the public comment, to read the public comment, to maybe even talk to some other people about it."

But Waskowiak says that the approving body does see some public comment the week before, and that she's seen it achieve changes.

"This is not a done deal. They can approve a document, and if there are comments that they heard that they want to consider more, they can always go back and take that issue up later."

To learn how to view and make a comment online, please visit TIP website.  HGAC's deadline for comments is this Thursday.