DALLAS — The Texas Department of Transportation is proposing $1.1 billion for the widening of heavily congested sections of Interstate 35 between Austin and Dallas using more than half of the so-called Proposition 12 bonds authorized by lawmakers.
The widening of the highway from its current four lanes to six would receive the lion's share of the funding if the Texas Transportation Commission board accepts the recommendations of TxDOT staff.
TxDOT drew up a list of proposed uses of the Proposition 12 bonds that were approved by voters in 2007. While voters authorized $5 billion of the general obligation bonds, the Legislature earlier this year appropriated debt service for only $2 billion. TxDOT engineers and staff culled their recommendations from $8.9 billion of eligible projects.
The new plan would accelerate the start of construction to 2011 from 2013, if the TTC approves at its meeting this month. The work of expanding the highway could be completed in two years, engineers estimate.
Widening of I-35 to six lanes has been completed between San Antonio to the Bell County line north of Austin, leaving a stretch at four lanes between the county line and Temple. Two other sections south and north of Waco remain to be widened.
A plan to relieve traffic on I-35 by building a parallel Trans Texas Corridor tollway has been declared dead after strong opposition at public hearings. The tollway was promoted heavily by Gov. Rick Perry.
In selecting the projects, TxDOT staff divided candidates into three categories — corridor projects of statewide significance, rehabilitation and safety projects, and mobility projects designed to ease congestion on specific roadway segments.
Even with the Prop. 12 bonds, TxDOT would need another $310 million to widen a five-mile section of I-35 near Temple. Passage of Prop. 12 amended the Texas Constitution to allow issuance of GO bonds for highway projects for the first time. Previously, the state had had to rely on revenue bonds backed by fuel taxes and state fees.
Aside from the Prop. 12 funds, TxDOT is facing constricted cash flow, with revenue falling $4 billion below estimates through 2019, according to James Bass, chief financial officer for the agency. In practical terms, that would mean about $6 billion less than anticipated in design and construction work, he said.
Revenues are expected to rise about 0.5% in 2010, and 1% per year for the rest of the next decade, but officials termed those simply educated guesses. TTC commissioner Ned Holmes said that the growing fuel efficiency of vehicles is likely to mean lower revenues.