In a speech given at the recently held Irving Transportation and Water Summit, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) executive director Joe Weber told a room full of government officials and industry representatives that his agency would not stand as an advocate for rail transit or other mass transit development, instead leaving such a role to other forms of government.
Weber’s remarks on this score came in the context of a larger discussion of Texas’ roads system, which the director also conceded cannot be developed well enough to accommodate the looming boom in population. “We don’t have enough space,” Weber said.
Financial and land constraints were tagged as the dual culprits, though Weber conceded that roads alone are not the answer for moving people and goods across the state. “We cannot build our way out of that with the growth we are expecting,” he said. “Transportation is a system.”
But while public transportation and long-distance passenger rail are potential mobility solutions, Weber said TxDOT will remain neutral on the subject, preferring to let lawmakers and local leaders decide transportation policy and funding.
“We’ll do it in a way where we’re not advocates,” he said.
Not all member of TxDOT tend to agree, however. Regional transportation director Michael Morris recently told a Dallas-based news website that as northern Texas continues to grow, leaders are going to have to steer more money toward public transit. The region is expected to grow from about 7 million people to 10.5 million in coming decades.
“Some of us do not think this region can exist with 10.5 million without additional rail service,” Morris said.
Weber’s remarks are seen as a measure of pragmatism; while state lawmakers have steered billions toward TxDOT in recent years, most of the money can only be spent on roads. Nonetheless, transportation agencies are expected to have a dog in the infrastructure hunt.
And even though transit agencies get most of their operational funding from sales tax revenues in member cities, and costs for expansion projects are derived from a salad of savings, debt assumed against future revenues and federal transit funds, which might make an agency thus dependent trepidatious to stick to one side of the line, rumblings within TxDOT suggest that the department’s role as advocate must be maintained, regardless of the political implications associated.