Texas House speaker not happy with gravel roads idea

Add Texas Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, to the list of lawmakers who are not thrilled with the idea of taking paved roads back to gravel in areas of the state battered by oil industry truck travel.

In a letter last month from Straus to the Texas Transportation Commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, the speaker pressed the agency to work in a more collaborative way with lawmakers and local officials.

“My office has also heard from several other House members on these matters. Members feel that TxDOT has not adequately reached out to legislators, local elected officials and communities of interest before proceeding with these plans,” Straus wrote.

TxDOT has said it does not have the funding to repave about 83 miles of roadway in South and West Texas, and that graveling is a safer alternative that will be easier to repair and help slow down truck traffic.

The agency has temporarily halted the gravel conversion to give local officials time to come up with an alternative.

Straus noted that the Legislature tried to provide energy-sector funding, and there’s the possibility that voters in 2014 will approve another $1.2 billion for roads.

“Despite the efforts to provide TxDOT with additional resources, recent proposals from agency administrators have led legislators and the public to question TxDOT’s priorities and commitment toward the solutions and priorities identified in recent legislative sessions,” Straus wrote.

But the best part of the letter is towards the end. In journalism we call this “burying the lede”:

“Maintaining safe roads and ensuring efficient use of limited funds is a critical priority for all Texans,” Straus said. “However, the approach you have taken to date to address the safety of the roads in the energy corridors, as well as your failure to adequately inform your legislative and local partners about the “turn back” approach, is unacceptable. TxDOT has made steady progress in improving relations with the Legislature, but moving forward without adequate input and discussion from your partners will jeopardize that relationship.”

Stay tuned to see how local officials find alternatives (think: money) to avoid gravel roads.