Comptroller Rylander proposes sweeping changes to TxDOT

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander today released her performance review of the Texas Department of Transportation, recommending sweeping changes that would provide an additional $1.1 billion for road construction and maintenance over the next two years without raising taxes. “This comprehensive performance review finds TxDOT at a crossroads where it must abandon its outdated business-as-usual approach to meet the challenges of the new century,” Rylander said. “It must become more efficient, taxpayer-sensitive, innovative, and most importantly focused on its core function’driving every possible transportation dollar directly into road construction.” Comptroller Rylander’s performance review recommends TxDOT: ‘ adopt innovative financing tools, such as Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEEs), build more toll roads, and tap into a new line of credit through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA); ‘ work harder to get more federal discretionary dollars for road construction for critical needs for our borders and corridors; ‘ do a better job distributing highway construction money and projects fairly around the state; ‘ upgrade its vehicle titling and registration system using the Internet; and ‘better manage its money and assets. “Simply put, Texans are finding it difficult getting from here to there,” she said. “TxDOT too often defends its antiquated practices and thinking instead of building the roads its customers are demanding.” Traditionally, Texas has used the pay-as-you-go approach to road construction, which has led to snarled traffic. GARVEEs are highway construction bonds based on the state’s future federal highway funds. Using GARVEE bonds would allow TxDOT to start construction of highway projects sooner, complete them faster and save millions of dollars for Texans. Rylander’s TxDOT performance review recommends the use of $1.1 billion in GARVEE bonds over the next two years. Among other things, the money would be used to finance construction projects on roads across the state congested by the increase in NAFTA-related traffic. TxDOT also should be authorized to participate in the federal government’s TIFIA, which provides loans, loan guarantees and lines-of-credit for transportation projects. Further, Rylander estimates an additional $48 million a year in discretionary dollars that Texas pours into the Washington funnel could be brought back home if TxDOT did a better job. To address traffic congestion in all areas of the state, the report recommends TxDOT adopt a simpler, straightforward funding allocation system, guarantee regions a better return on money sent to Austin and increase the Texas Transportation Commission from three to seven members to ensure better representation across the state. “TxDOT’s own current ‘standard of fairness’ states that it should get back 95 cents of every dollar Texas sends to Washington,” Rylander said. “Therefore, it should enthusiastically embrace the recommendation that regions in Texas get back minimally 90 cents of every dollar sent to Austin. “The agency must become more broad-minded and open. That can only be accomplished with a change at the top, which requires additional representation from all across the sate on the Texas Transportation Commission. “TxDOT’s vehicle titling and registration system is obsolete and needs to be updated so Texans can be online instead of in line,” she said. “By 2004, TxDOT will have raised enough money to completely upgrade this system and should embrace a 75-cent cut in certain vehicle registration fees, saving taxpayers more than $11 million a year.” Restructuring TxDOT’s vehicle Titles and Registration regional offices would eliminate 74 positions beginning in 2003, saving $2.5 million a year that could be redirected to road construction. The performance review recommends trimming more than 250 positions from TxDOT. The 76th Legislature mandated Comptroller Rylander’s performance review of TxDOT, which began in January 2000, placing particular emphasis on the agency’s contracting practices, geographical distribution of construction and maintenance projects, project financing with federal and state funds and general business practices. TxDOT, originally called the Texas Highway Department, has an annual budget of more than $4.5 billion, $2.45 billion of which is spent on highway construction. TxDOT spends $1.03 billion annually on highway maintenance, $8.4 million on public transportation and $61.7 million on its aviation division. Its mission is to provide safe, effective and efficient movement of people and goods in Texas. TxDOT has more than 14,000 employees at its Austin headquarters, 25 district offices, 119 area offices, 288 maintenance sections and 17 Vehicle Titles and Registration regional offices. “What I found at TxDot is troubling,” Rylander said. “Texans have in the past prided themselves on a fine highway system. That system is in jeopardy and can only be maintained as a national example of how things can be done with inclusive, forward-looking new thinking and new direction.”

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