New Transportation Advocacy Group Forms In Houston

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(Houston--Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) As Texas lawmakers struggle to trim the budget, transportation advocates are hoping the legislators keep their scissors away from the dwindling pot of transportation dollars. A new organization called the Transportation Advocacy Group - Houston Region (TAG) is calling on politicians to find more ways to finance highway and transit projects.

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TAG has around 50 members so far. Most are business leaders in the Houston region: engineers, attorneys, contractors, property managers, etc. Wayne Klotz helped start the group. He’s been a civil engineer in Houston for more than thirty years. He says with money for road and transit projects drying up, lawmakers need to come up with other solutions to the region’s transportation problems. “We’ve got all these things floating around but no ability to pay for them," says Klotz. "And if there is no way to pay for them they won’t get built."

Houston's population is swelling, notes Klotz, "so as more and more people come the only thing that happens is congestion gets worse, air quality gets worse, and the quality of life declines. That’s just a given.”

Klotz says TAG is pro-roads and pro-transit, but will primarily be focusing on highway improvements during the current legislative session. The Texas Legislature is considering bills that would raise more money for transportation projects, including one that would increase the gas tax (which was hasn't been raised since 1991) and another that would bump up the cost of vehicle registration. Klotz says the former has little chance of passing in the tax-averse House. “Nobody believes that this legislature is going to go increase taxes, and so we need to find to new sources of revenue,” he says.

The new advocacy group wants lawmakers to at least index the state's (20 cents a gallon) gas tax to adjust for inflation. He also backs raising the vehicle registration fee. In addition, TAG would like to see the legislature pass a local-option transportation bill, which would give Houston voters the ability to approve a local tax that would pay for specific projects in the area, like resurfacing a road. It’s the same concept as Houston’s drainage fee proposition, which voters passed last year. “What we’re asking the state to do is to allow the Houston region to address the transportation problems," says Klotz. "If they can’t find ways to fund it then at least give us the opportunity to work with our elected officials here to handle our own issues.”

Klotz says TAG is getting ready to deliver its message to state lawmakers who represent the Houston region. But with a $15-27 billion dollar budget deficit to deal with, will they listen?

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