Texas Rising

Roads to Prosperity

Infrastructure solutions boost economic development

by Susan Busa

From the first cattle trails to modern interstates, the Texas transportation system has helped make the state the 10th largest economy in the world. Texas leads the nation in total road and street mileage, with 300,000 miles.

A booming economy, coupled with an increasing population, has made transportation issues a priority for the state. Alleviating congestion and maintaining and repairing deteriorating highways and roads are key challenges. The ability to transport goods, and people, efficiently throughout the state can affect both current and future economic development for towns across Texas.

Local Government
Tools that Made
the Difference

Round Rock

The Round Rock City Council adopted the city’s first Transportation Master Plan in January 1999. The city’s Section 4B Economic Development Corporation uses a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements.

In developing its transportation plan, the city included clearly defined objectives such as:

  • evaluating the current transportation system;
  • identifying current and future travel patterns;
  • incorporating future population and employment forecasts;
  • including citizen input;
  • identifying the necessary improvements; and
  • developing short- and longterm transportation plans.

For more information on how Round Rock developed its transportation plan, contact the city of Round Rock at (512) 218-3243 or visit Round Rock's web site.

In the past 25 years, Texas’ population has increased by 57 percent to 23.5 million.

“Growth is causing challenges for the highway system,” says Randall Dillard, public information director for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). TxDOT lists reducing congestion, enhancing safety and expanding economic opportunity as top transportation goals.

According to Tim Lomax, research engineer at the Texas Transportation Institute, decreased mobility reduces road safety. Crowded highways and travel delays also affect on-time shipping and delivery schedules, which can affect a company’s decision to stay in Texas.

“Congestion impacts everyone,” says John Esparza, president and CEO of the Texas Motor Transportation Association. “The economic effects are very real, but our concerns are moving freight safely first and then effectively second. And it all hinges on the state of our highways.”

Heavier traffic increases wear and tear on aging Texas highways. Construction costs for highway upkeep have risen more than 62 percent since 2002.

Tools and Solutions

An effective transportation system can accommodate and stimulate economic growth. “It’s important to get the most out of the system you have,” says Lomax.

He suggests fixes such as:

  • timed traffic signals;
  • clearing accidents and stalled vehicles quickly; and
  • workplace solutions such as telecommuting, car-pooling and flexible hours that can reduce the number of cars on the road.

Some cities have used light rail and commuter rail in urban areas to ease congestion:

  • The Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex operates a 35-mile commuter rail system linking downtown Dallas and Fort Worth with DFW International Airport;
  • Houston runs eight miles of light rail transit between the Galleria area and downtown and 28 miles of commuter rail transit;
  • Austin will debut the Red Line, a 32-mile commuter rail between Leander and downtown Austin, in 2008.

For other transportation resources, local governments can look to the Texas Comptroller’s Texas EDGE (Economic Data for Growth and Expansion) Web site, an online resource tool. Governments can visit www.window.state.tx.us/texasedge to request information such as maps showing roads, railroads, airports, streets or other public infrastructure.

Mapping a Plan

Cities like Round Rock and Tyler are creating transportation strategies.

In 1997, Round Rock voters approved a Section 4B Economic Development Corporation that uses a half-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements. Round Rock recently won a $16 million federal State Infrastructure Bank loan to improve traffic congestion and access to four large retail centers.

Tyler implemented a transportation strategy for highway and city street congestion. One solution is Loop 49, a toll road that will go around the city. The city is also installing computer traffic controls that make real-time adjustments to the signal lights to optimize traffic flow.

Flexibility and creativity in finding solutions are key to solving future transportation challenges.

“There’s more than one right answer,” says Jeff Austin III, chairman of the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority. “The actions we take today, or don’t take, will have long-range implications.”

For resources on transportation solutions, visit the Comptroller’s Texas EDGE at www.window.state.tx.us/texasedge, the Comptroller’s Local Government Assistance and Economic Development Division Web site at www.window.state.tx.us/lga or call (800) 531-5441, ext. 3-4679. TR