Central Texas roads will get a $120 million boost from the Texas Department of Transportation windfall approved by voters in November, officials with the state agency said Thursday.
That will give the 11 counties of the Austin district about 6.9 percent of $1.74 billion in oil and gas severance taxes that TxDOT received in the past week because of the new law.
Specific projects growing from this additional money won’t be announced until February, and some might not be identified by TxDOT officials until this summer, officials said. But Will Conley, a Hays County commissioner who chairs the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board, said a good portion of the money is likely to go to the area’s main problem: Interstate 35.
“We have had a real consensus (at CAMPO), and have delivered that message to the state, that we want to make some significant progress on I-35,” Conley said Thursday. “That’s not only a Central Texas issue, but also a Texas issue.”
Under the constitutional amendment, typically referred to as Proposition 1, half of the oil and gas taxes that otherwise would have gone to the state rainy day fund will now go to the state highway fund. That number is likely to be a fluctuating figure, and early indications (given sagging oil prices) are that TxDOT will get far less a year from now. Although Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin said Thursday that figure could be as low as half this year’s payout, TxDOT Chief Financial Officer James Bass declined to speculate on a number.
The state comptroller in January likely will release an estimate of oil and gas tax revenue for the current fiscal year, as well as the 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal years, allowing TxDOT to calculate future estimates of Proposition 1 money.
The Proposition 1 revenue comes on top of the state and federal fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees that are TxDOT’s normal sources of cash for road building and maintenance.
As for this year’s Proposition 1 money, state officials decided that 40 percent of it should go to projects addressing urban traffic congestion, 30 percent to “regional connectivity” (typically expansion of rural roads), 15 percent to general road maintenance and 15 percent to maintenance of roads serving oil and gas fields that have seen lots of wear and tear from the drilling boom of the past few years.
For the Austin district, that will mean $63.8 million for congestion projects (the likely source of I-35 money), $35.2 million for rural road expansion, $15.9 million for maintenance and $4.8 million for oil and gas roads. That last figure represents less than 2 percent of the $261 million allocated for oil and gas roads because TxDOT’s Austin district, which stretches from Mason County on the west to Caldwell County on the southeast, has relatively little drilling and production activity.