Calling Texas “the mecca of innovation on transportation infrastructure,” Gov. Rick Perry touted the state’s approach to expanding roads without raising taxes in Tuesday morning remarks to the toll road industry.
Perry was the keynote speaker at the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) annual conference, held this year in Austin.
“Thank you for making a difference in people’s lives,” Perry said to more than 400 conference attendees, most of whom were from outside of Texas. “What you do in your communities, and in transportation infrastructure, is how we will really turn this economy around in this country.”
In his speech, Perry touted his work in transportation during his 13-year tenure as governor, particularly his backing of a statewide proliferation of toll roads and his use of other financing tools to avoid raising taxes.
“We realized early on that pay-as-you-go wasn’t going to help us meet all of the requirements that we had as a state,” Perry said. “So we explored new ways of financing, including toll roads, but also ways in which we structure our budget and take advantage of historically low interest rates, all to ensure that money flows to these road construction projects and to maintenance.”
Between 2001 and 2012, Texas added more than 6,600 lane miles to its road system, more than any other state, Perry said. He described a robust transportation infrastructure system as a key driver of economic growth.
Companies “want to be able to send their employees where they’re needed in the shortest period of time,” Perry said. “They want their employees to be able to get home to spend time with their families instead of being in gridlock when their children are playing in a soccer game or going to a music recital. So that’s the reason we have explored some pretty bold and innovative ways to expand and grow our transportation infrastructure.”
Perry also urged the federal government to provide states with both more flexibility and certainty when it comes to transportation funding, and to distribute more federal gas tax funds back to the states to spend how they see fit.
“While our partnership within the state has been paying some amazing dividends, we’re still waiting on Washington to view states as anything other than vassals,” Perry said.
IBTTA's executive director and CEO, Pat Jones, said he was pleased to hear Perry talk about flexibility, though he didn’t know if that meant the governor supported a proposal by the Obama administration to remove the prohibition on tolling for existing interstate highways.
“I’m sure he has in his own mind what he means when he talks about flexibility,” Jones said. “I know that in Texas, it may not really be popular to consider tolling interstate highways. But some states are looking for additional ways to rebuild their interstate highways. They don’t have the fuel taxes from the state or the federal government to do that, and they’d like that flexibility.”
While Perry suggested that he was not opposed to the construction of more toll roads in Texas, many members of his party do not feel the same way. Earlier this year, delegates at the Texas Republican state convention removed language from the party's platform backing “the legitimate construction of toll roads in Texas” and replaced it with language opposing some aspects of toll projects.