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Section A: General News


Eagle Ford: Top-notch farm-to-market roads are lifelines for rural transportation




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October 9, 2013 | 3,907 views | Post a comment

By Mike Barnett

There are bumps in the road for the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) plan to convert a number of farm-to-market highways in South and West Texas from traditional asphalt to gravel hybrid.

Those temporary roadblocks include an uproar from rural Texas and a “candid conversation” with Texas Farm Bureau over the future of farm-to-market roads in the Lone Star State. But is that enough to stop TxDOT from plowing up pavement?

Probably not. Although TxDOT issued a moratorium to give affected counties time to consider alternatives, come the end of October the transportation agency will continue the conversion process on the 83 miles of designated roads in four South Texas and two West Texas counties.

Texas Farm Bureau President Kenneth Dierschke met with TxDOT officials in August to address questions rural Texans have regarding the conversion of the roads hardest hit by oil and gas exploration.

As a result of that meeting with Farm Bureau and concerns expressed by others, TxDOT has pledged to work closer with stakeholders with plans to hear their concerns in public meetings in the affected counties.

Also, in a response via letter to Farm Bureau, TxDOT said they will restore converted roads to their original construction “as soon as possible.” TxDOT qualified “as soon as possible,” however, as contingent on the reduction of energy-sector activity on farm-to-market roads and provided that “sufficient additional funding” is obtained.

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Rural Texas was taken by surprise in the first skirmish with TxDOT. We are prepared for the battles ahead.

Farm Bureau views TxDOT’s plan for the South and West Texas counties as a warning shot to the rest of the state. Sen. Carlos Uresti has said the transportation agency has plans to expand the original 83 miles to 400. Who knows where it could go from there?

As the October deadline looms, road conversion will begin again. In this era of tight budgets and burgeoning needs, the question has to be asked: Does TxDOT plan to leave rural Texas behind?

One of the brightest spots in the history of rural Texas occurred when a state representative and future governor named Dolph Briscoe worked with Texas Farm Bureau to achieve the Texas farm-to-market road system. Briscoe traveled the state with the zeal of an evangelist, thundering from various speaking podiums, “Get the farmer out of the mud.”

Once stuck in a rut, agriculture has made tremendous progress since the days of Briscoe. The excellent rural road system established then is vital to moving crops from field to market and as a lifeline for goods and services to flow to and from rural communities.

We have no intention of going “back to the mud.”

Mike Barnett is director of publications for the Texas Farm Bureau. He serves as editor of Texas Agriculture and Texas Neighbors.
 

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