Hybrid cars could hurt state road projects, city budgets


by Gabe Gutierrez / 11 News


Posted on January 4, 2011 at 11:39 AM

HOUSTON – The mayor’s office is preparing a state lobbying effort to ensure potential transportation funding cuts won’t impact the nation’s fourth-largest city.

The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for most freeways, with the counties handling other roads. But Mayor Annise Parker is concerned the Bayou City’s explosive growth will force city government to take more of an initiative in building new roads.

"If the state can't pick up the cost," Parker said, "at some point, the municipalities are going to have to do that."

Oddly enough, the concern is partly due to the rise of fuel-efficient cars and hybrid vehicles. With drivers spending less on gas, the state is getting less tax money. The state’s $.20 per-gallon tax hasn’t changed in 20 years.

By late 2012, analysts predict the state’s highway fund will dry up, only leaving money for maintenance and cutting off funding for new roads.

State Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Homeland Security Committee, told 11 News on Monday that transportation funding will be a top priority during the legislative session, which begins next week.

Williams said it appears the public has lost confidence in TxDOT’s ability to handle road projects, prompting lawmakers to consider reforming TxDOT -- as well as consider other solutions.

Williams opposed any gas tax hike but supported a reasonable increase in car registration fees.

"A new funding source remains to be seen," Williams said. "But raising the gas tax would only be a stopgap measure."

Legislators will likely face a barrage of questions from local city officials as the state deals with a budget gap estimated to be anywhere between $12 billion and $28 billion.

The city of Houston plans to lobby them on several issues - ranging from firefighter pensions to tools - that would help combat urban blight.

But Mayor Parker said transportation funding remains the most pressing state issue for Houston.

"If the state cuts back, the city will have to pick up the slack," Parker said. "And I don't have any slack in my budget."