An additional $250 million in state funding could go to helping repair damaged roads in parts of the state with booming oil and gas production.
But the new pot of money won’t help the roads in the Eagle Ford Shale and Permian Basin that the state already has singled out to be converted from pavement to gravel — this money is designated for a different set of roads and highways.
The new $250 million comes from vehicle registration fees, which came in higher than the state had estimated. The money is dedicated to transportation under the state’s constitution.
It would pay for 70 repair projects, including some roads in oil- and gas-producing counties such as Atascosa, Dimmit, Frio, Gonzales, Karnes, La Salle, Live Oak, McMullen, Webb, Wilson and Zavala counties, as well as some projects in surrounding counties such as Lavaca, Uvalde, Comal and Guadalupe counties.
State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Transportation Funding, recently directed the Texas Department of Transportation to request funding from the Legislative Budget Board for the 70 projects.
While the Eagle Ford Shale oil boom has created numerous jobs across South Texas, heavy trucks carrying everything from crude oil to drilling rigs have torn apart the region’s infrastructure. Chunks of shoulders have broken off, potholes pepper the roadways and so-called “alligator” cracks have become common.
In a move that’s created backlash across South Texas, TxDOT says it must convert about 66 miles of roads to gravel in the Eagle Ford Shale because it does not have the funds to pave over the damage.
Another 17.3 paved miles in Reeves and Culberson counties in West Texas — another area in the middle of an intense oil drilling boom — also would become gravel.
South Texas officials have worried that the state might spring another list of to-be-graveled roads on them without warning in 2014.
“Many of us were concerned that TxDOT would convert more paved roads to unpaved roads immediately,” state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, said in a news release.
But TxDOT has said it will improve its communication with local officials, including holding “a public hearing at least sixty days prior to the possible conversion” to grave
Economic boost: Eagle Ford Shale provided $61B to South Texas
TxDOT has put a moratorium on graveling while it gives local officials a chance to find alternatives — basically county money or donations from oil and gas operators.
The graveling already had started in some counties prior to the moratorium, but TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson has said the intent is to repave the roads in the future when funding is available.
For now, the agency says the best solution is what it calls “high-end unpaved roads” — rougher than a paved road, but without loose aggregate. TxDOT says trucks and cars will have to travel more slowly on the gravel roads, making them safer. But many South Texas county officials — who maintain a network of roads that include gravel — say they don’t believe that trucks will travel more slowly on gravel
“They say it is the safest alternative,” Zaffirini told the crowd at a recent meeting she organized in Cotulla, where members of the public could ask questions of TxDOT. “Many of us disagree with that.”
Dimmit County Commissioner Mike Uriegas said he’s meeting soon with TxDOT engineers and still hopes to prevent the graveling of FM 186 in his precinct with some combination of public and private dollars.
“It’s only three miles of road I’m trying to salvage,” Uriegas said. “It’s very, very busy. There are about 300 to 400 wells off of that road.”
While county tax receipts are up, they don’t cover the hundreds of millions needed to fix ruined roads. And state severance taxes, paid on oil and gas production, usually don’t fund the state’s highway system.
TxDOT asked the Legislature for $1.6 billion for energy-sector road work, but got $225 million. Of that, about $157 million is going to Eagle Ford counties.
The Legislature also designated $225 million for grants for county-maintained roads in areas with high oil and gas production. It’s likely that South Texas counties will apply for those grant funds — intended for the county road system — but use that pot of money instead toward the cause of avoiding gravel on the state’s farm-to-market system.
In 2014, Texas voters will consider a constitutional amendment that would redirect more than $1 billion from the state’s rainy day fund to transportation projects.
Also on FuelFix.com: