DALLAS - After years of sweating transportation dollars, state and local governments in Texas are quickly lining up projects that might be eligible for a federal stimulus package proposed by President-elect Barack Obama.
While Congress is considering ways to stimulate the economy through transportation projects, the state Legislature will begin to revisit unresolved issues over private funding of toll projects and competition over funding from the Texas Department of Transportation.
TxDOT has long cited a multibillion funding gap for needed highway construction in the growing state, while lawmakers have complained that the department has not fully used the bonding authority already provided.
Meanwhile, agencies are adjusting their portfolios of projects that are ready to build but lack funding. They range from traditional highway construction to expansion of rail hubs along the Texas-Mexico border.
San Antonio-area lawmakers want House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to consider the improvement of ports of entry along the border. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez - a South Texas Democrat and member of the House Appropriations Committee that will write the stimulus bill - said he wants additional money for Presidio, which suffered from Rio Grande flooding earlier this year.
The General Services Administration, which maintains federal government facilities, estimates that $5 billion is needed over 10 years to improve land ports of entry along the borders with Mexico and Canada.
Texas has five rail ports of entry with Mexico and eight inland ports of entry, with Laredo accounting for the largest amount of truck traffic with Mexico of all U.S. ports.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said Monday that the spending program could cost $1 trillion, setting off intense competition among the states.
While projects that are already approved likely will get first shot at the funding, mass transit operators do not want to be left behind. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a regional rail plan is seeking approval from the state Legislature and would rely heavily on federal funds.
Because the plan would create a new taxing jurisdiction, lawmakers from North Texas have recently appeared cool to the idea. However, federal incentives could change the picture.
Texas' constitution bans using gas tax revenue to fund transit projects. Federal funding for mass transit usually require a 50% local match. However, the stimulus money would have no such restrictions and require no match requirement.
Boxer, chairwoman of the Senate Public Works Committee, said the total spending will probably be between $500 billion and $1 trillion and that states will have to spend the money quickly.