Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Texas traffic counts are flat--we need maintenance more than we need new roads

Interesting analysis from Roger Baker, with backup data, that Texas traffic counts are flat--NOT increasing, even though this may conflict with perceptions. The below is verbatim from Roger:

Everyone knows that TxDOT loves to build roads. And so do the contractors that TxDOT hires. And not only do these contractors love to build the roads, but they are generously willing to help elect the politicians who decide to build these roads.But at some point, somebody really needs to ask if we need more roads in Texas than we already have. The answer is that we probably don't.

How do we know that? The most recent Federal Highway Administration data shows that from Nov. 2008 to Nov. 2009, the actual use of roads in Texas only increased by .1%, as we see here:>

In other words, taking the best data for travel on all the roads in Texas combined over the last year, we see that it would take about 100 years for the level of traffic to go up by even 10%. Consider the implications. The legislature is not willing to raise the gas tax, so this necessarily causes the gas tax revenue, both the state and federal portions, to be about flat. Which situation then makes it really really hard for TxDOT to borrow against this revenue stream, which is falling short of even keeping up with inflation.

Even though the travel demand on their current roads is flat, they they still want to build more roads, which would obviously cause TxDOT's maintenance funding shortfall to get even bigger. If TxDOT is as broke as they claim, and demand is flat, then why would they worry so much about anything beyond maintaining the Texas roads we already have?

At least not until someday when the economy recovers and/or we discover a new supply of cheap oil, causing people to start driving more and needing lots of new road capacity, right? TxDOT likes to complain that they can barely afford to maintain their current Texas roads. But the way they chose to deal with the problem is in a way that may be nice for their contractors, but is practically guaranteed to make TxDOT's maintenance problem worse.

Like they say, when things can't go on any longer, they won't. - Roger

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