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Monday, August 26, 2013

Balancing Budgets Upon Your Backs

The oil and energy boom has taken such a toll on Texas roads that the Texas DOT is converting some asphalt roads back to gravel roads, since there are no funds to maintain them as higher grade roadways.

The Texas Tribune:

...The sharp increase in heavy traffic from a historic oil boom has damaged many farm-to-market roads in South and East Texas. The damage related to energy development has become so extensive that state and local authorities lack the funding to make all the repairs. Last month, the Texas Department of Transportation announced plans to convert more than 80 miles of paved roads to gravel. The conversions are expected to start Monday, TxDOT officials said. But the plan has been met with criticism from lawmakers and some of the farmers and ranchers who live near those roads.

"Since paving roads is too expensive and there is not enough funding to repave them all, our only other option to make them safer is to turn them into gravel roads," TxDOT spokesman David Glessner said.

Dimmit County, near the Texas-Mexico border, will be hit hardest by TxDOT’s decision. More than 30 miles of the county’s farm-to-market roads are slated to be turned to gravel.

“We want the state to continue to maintain those roads as they are now,” said Dimmit County Commissioner Mike Uriegas.

In the final days of the 83rd regular legislative session, lawmakers found $225 million to repair county roads affected by energy development, and the same amount for repairs to state-owned roads. That funding, though, was only a temporary fix. Efforts to increase taxes on the companies that are profiting from the energy boom to cover the road repair costs failed to gain traction. TxDOT said repairing and maintaining the oil field roads into the future will cost about $1 billion a year in additional funding.

The conversions will affect roads in four South Texas counties — Live Oak, Dimmit, LaSalle and Zavala — and two West Texas counties — Reeves and Culberson. Glessner said the farm-to-market roads that will be turned to gravel were picked, in part, because they are rural routes that are ineligible for federal funds.

State Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, whose district includes Dimmit County, is one of the harshest critics of the conversions. He said TxDOT did not consult lawmakers and community leaders before unveiling the plan.

“By failing to do so, the agency imposed a unilateral solution on these communities with no notice, no opportunity to seek alternative solutions, and no clear understanding of what to expect in the future,” he said in a statement...

Crushed stone roads are good roads, and if properly maintained the worst said about them is the dust in summer. However, a road grader should be readily available, since they do tend to "washboard" rather quickly.
I used to sell crushed stone for roads. They are dear to my heart.

What we see here is a "famine in the midst of plenty".
I just had a post a few days ago about how important roads were in the view of those of the 19th century: bad roads on election day means voters lose the chance to vote. Roads are the blood vessels of the body politic.
( see  )

In Texas, the problem is Economic Boom and an unwillingness to fund the road required; boom, not bust; there is an unwillingness or inability to maintain essential infrastructure, since infrastructure is long-term and the boom will pay off near-term.
So the roads are allowed to relapse into a state less capable of high load-bearing and requiring constant grooming and application of calcium chloride to keep the dust down - an environmental and health concern.

It will be the farmers and small land-holders by the side of the roads that will suffer, not the Oil companies, not the Legislature.

The budget will be balanced upon the brawny backs of the less wealthy and the less powerful... which is what I have always said.


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