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Lack of action, money could leave rural Texas in the dust
By Austin Brown III
A recent announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to start converting asphalt roads to gravel has a lot of ranchers worried. Safe and well-maintained farm-to-market and rural-ranch roads are the lifeline of the Texas cattle industry, and I fear this proposal could leave us literally in the dust.
It’s easy to put all the blame on TxDOT for this predicament. We are all aware of the issues landowners have experienced with our state’s transportation department over the years. But, I’ll go out on a limb here and say they aren’t solely to blame.
During the third and final special session of the 2013 Texas Legislature lawmakers finally passed legislation to help fund TxDOT. That’s a good thing because, as you well know, our state population is growing rapidly. This means more vehicles on all of our roads.
What’s bad is the legislation fell billions of dollars short of the funds needed to maintain the roads we have. What’s more, it forced TxDOT to make $100 million in cuts. The legislation also called for a constitutional amendment to be passed by Texas voters to initiate much of the funding, but this election will not occur until 2014.
TxDOT needs more money. Finding this money is the hard part.
With a lack of necessary dollars, TxDOT has only three choices. They can do nothing to those rural roads that are in need of major repairs. They can fully pave and repair a select few roads and do nothing to the others. Or they can stretch their dollar as far as they can and temporarily turn those deteriorating paved roads into gravel roads. This would make them slightly safer in the short term, but is still not a long-term solution.
At this point TxDOT has opted for the third choice. The roads they’ve initially proposed to convert to gravel are in four counties in South Texas and two counties in West Texas, totaling around 85 miles. These roads are in such bad shape because thousands of trucks travel them due to the oil and gas boom in these areas.
Maybe the oil and gas industry should share in the costs to help maintain these roads.
The oil and gas industry is important to the Texas economy, and we need to work with this economic engine to keep it thriving. That means taking care of the roads that allow them to produce and transport their product.
Unfortunately, the oil and gas industry is its own worst enemy. They tear up roads without a plan to repair or fix them hoping TxDOT bails them out. Without good farm-to-market and rural-ranch roads, the oil and gas industry will suffer just like the cattle industry.
Cattle raisers have strongly urged the oil and gas industry to help fund the repair and maintenance of the rural roads. The Legislature has tried to encourage them to do so, but those attempts have been stopped.
In fairness, the oil and gas industry does pay a lot of taxes to the state of Texas. Some companies are doing the right thing and offering additional financial assistance for road repair, but many are not. Some have mentioned that counties take over the repair and maintenance of these roads. That’s simply not a viable option considering that most counties can barely take care of their own roads.
Something must be done to protect and maintain our rural road system. As rural landowners with a stake in this decision we must actively participate in this process. Tell your elected officials to make farm-to-market and rural-ranch road funding a priority before we start to see more of our rural roads turn to dust.
Austin Brown III is a fourth-generation rancher from Bee County. He and his dad operate Brown Ranches, a commercial cow-calf operation. Brown chairs the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association’s Marketing Committee, which presides over transportation issues that affect ranchers and landowners.
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