Rocky reception prompts state to slow down on gravel roads

By Dug Begley and Peggy Fikac

A plan to convert some rural roads to gravel rather than repair pavement damaged by oil field equipment is slowing down — much like the traffic in the areas — after lawmakers raised concerns.

Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, said Tuesday that Texas Department of Transportation officials had signaled a 60-day delay in some of the planned conversions of 83 miles of paved roads to gravel.

State transportation officials approved the conversion plan last month. Heavy equipment used in energy production has marred the roads, and limited funds have left transportation officials unable to afford the needed repairs, said John Barton, the state’s deputy transportation director.

Counties must ask the state to reconsider the conversion from paved roads to gravel. Texas transportation officials will review the requests on a case-by-case basis, Uresti said, and will refrain from converting any roads during a 60-day review period.

“The oil and gas industry must get involved as well,” Uresti said. “It must be part of the solution.”

Bob Kaufman, a spokesman for the transportation department, said state officials had agreed to allow counties to assume control of the roads set to be converted to gravel.

Kaufman said some conversions are continuing, specifically on two roads in the Corpus Christi area.
Lawmakers also are continuing their assault on the plan. More meetings are planned this week in Austin.

“We’re sort of sending the wrong message to the energy sector, that we appreciate all the revenue that you provide for the state, but we’re going to diminish the roads y’all travel on,” said Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio. “I think it’s a bad decision. … I think it’s making the Legislature look bad, and it’s making the state of Texas look bad.”