Proposed statewide plan could benefit El Paso highways

Updated: Wednesday, September 4 2013, 12:39 PM MDT
Proposed statewide plan could benefit El Paso highways story image

By: Stacey Welsh
EL PASO, Texas -- State Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, is hammering out his latest transportation funding plan in the third special session of the Texas Legislature.

The measure could raise $900 million to $1 billion a year for transportation statewide. This funding falls under HJR 1 and comes as a package with HB 1, the latest version of Pickett's plan.

The updated measure he rolled out Thursday will also require the Texas Department of Transportation to put $100 million toward paying off multibillion-dollar debt from 2014 to 2015.

"There's a lot of our colleagues who believe that a $20 billion agency that has 11,000 employees should be able to find some efficiencies and savings. We want to see them have some skin in the game," Pickett said.

The nearly billion-dollar proposal toward transportation funding is only about a quarter of the funding TXDOT has asked for, but Pickett said it will still help. "If this happens, it will be the largest amount of money anybody has seen toward transportation in 22 years or more," Pickett said.

HJR 1 calls for diverting half of Texas' oil and natural gas production tax revenue from the Rainy Day Fund -- the state's savings account -- to fund highway improvements. If both chambers send the measure through, voters would have to approve amending the state Constitution to do so.

Pickett said the money means improvements for El Paso highways. 

"This would help us finish the direct connects on 375 and I-10. This would help us with all the safety projects. We've got train track overpasses that we've got to get done so the trains aren't stopping traffic," Pickett said.

East El Paso resident Jason Trevino said he is looking forward to any improvements to area highways. 

"I leave close to 45 minutes from my house... because I know it's going to be congested. You have to watch out for traffic," Trevino said. 

Despite this, some eastside drivers are pleased with the current highways. 

"Usually with the construction, there's a little bit of stall backs... but once you hit the 601, it's a straight shot," East El Paso resident Kyle Means said.

Because it requires a state constitutional amendment, HJR1 requires 100 votes in favor to pass the House. Representatives are set to vote on both together, but HB 1 could still pass alone with 76 votes. Pickett said having as many representatives as possible present is critical.

"There's other parts of the state being criticized for people not being there and voting. The El Paso delegation is there. I just hope we get enough bodies from the rest for the state to make this happen," Pickett said.

The third session comes after previous versions of the legislation failed in the first two special sessions. Transportation is the only topic on the agenda for this session. The House is set to vote on the legislation package Monday.

Proposed statewide plan could benefit El Paso highways
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