According to statistics compiled in 2012, Texas roadways are officially the deadliest in the United States. While the population of Texas only comprises about 70% of that of California, there were more traffic fatalities in Texas than any other state, and we also ranked 11th in the rate of death per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
Obviously, driver error plays a role in many accidents, but the marked decline of state funds allocated for work on our roadways cannot be ignored. In 1988, more than .6% of Texas’ gross state product was allocated for highway maintenance and construction. Today, that number is down to .31% – about half of what it was only 25 years ago. At the same time, our state’s population rapidly continues to grow, placing more people on the roads than ever before.
There are a number of reasons for this boom in traffic, with one of the most glaring being the influx of oil and gas operations in several regions within the state. For example, the drilling boom in Odessa has supplied the region with good jobs and good incomes, but the infrastructure of the region simply cannot support all the new traffic. Odessa’s population has increased 150% from 120,000 to 180,000 in the last decade, and it is expected to exceed 250,000 within 20 years. If road funding continues to decline and the population continues to grow, this problem will only get worse.
Beyond bringing more people to the region and placing more passenger cars and trucks on these inadequate roads, the booming oil and gas industries have also caused a major boost in commercial trucking. Combined, these factors have contributed to a 157% increase in traffic fatalities in the Odessa region from 2009 to 2013. Furthermore, compared to the rest of Texas, residents of the Odessa district were 2.5 times more likely to die in auto accidents in 2010; that figure is almost certainly higher now.
Our outdated and insufficient roads are no longer the exclusive travel routes of rural farmers, and there has to be something done to make them safer and more effective for all commuters. Speaking about the current traffic systems and infrastructure, Sergeant Gary Duesler of the Ector County Sheriff’s Department stated, “We’re just outgrowing it so quickly. Places that before would have a four-way stop sign, now they actually need stop lights there – and of course, there’s no money to do it.”
Governor Rick Perry has been hesitant to raise taxes in the current political climate of our state, and more fuel-efficient vehicles have lowered state fuel levies from 18% to less than 7% despite a substantial increase in motor vehicle traffic, leaving very little funding to expand our infrastructure or to even maintain our existing roadways. Next month, however, Texans will vote on a constitutional amendment to apply $1.7 billion from annual oil-and-gas tax revenue that could otherwise be set aside as a rainy-day fund toward highway work instead. The problem is that even if the amendment passes, the figure is still $4 billion short of estimated annual maintenance costs and $9 billion short if we want to increase our state’s roadways from their current “F” rating with the Texas Transportation Commission to a “B.”
The bottom line is that this issue needs to be resolved, and new funding must come from somewhere to fix our roads and make them safer for our citizens. Since we have the luxury of not paying state income taxes and paying less in transportation fees than nearly 90% of the country, this might take some creative thinking. One recent suggestion has been to raise the gas tax and vehicle registration fees, but this possibility has already been rejected by state legislators. According to Drew Cutcher, co-founder of a civil engineering firm in Odessa, “Sometimes as a nation and as a state, we don’t do things except by crisis.” Unfortunately, the discrepancy between the amount of traffic on our roads and the conditions of the roadways themselves is already placing the situation in crisis mode – even if casual, everyday Texas drivers haven’t noticed the severity of the issue.
Rest assured, we at Crosley Law Firm will continue to monitor the dire roadway conditions in our state and do the best we can to advocate for safer travel. In the meantime, if you or a loved one has suffered a personal injury as a result of a motor vehicle accident, please give us a call at (877) 535-4529 or visit our website to learn more about our firm or contact us to receive a free consultation.
Niquetter, M., & Yap, R. (2014). Texas highways deadliest as anti-tax state curbs roadwork. Bloomberg. Retrieved from: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/death-roils-texas-state-leads-040001012.html