The Texas Department of Transportation has ended its controversial program aimed at converting some badly damaged paved roads to gravel, more than a year after the launch of the initiative drew national attention to the agency's budget troubles.
TxDOT sent a letter Friday to the Legislative Budget Board formally announcing an end to its “high-end unpaved road conversion” program. In the letter, the agency also requested $402 million in additional funding from the state highway fund for the current fiscal year, with plans to split the funds evenly between "critical safety projects" statewide and repairs on roads impacted by the drilling boom.
"This additional funding, in conjunction with the formal termination of our high-end unpaved road conversion policy, will reaffirm the department's commitment to maintaining a first-class transportation system," TxDOT Executive Director Joe Weber wrote.
TxDOT has not converted any roads to gravel in more than a year. The agency drew widespread criticism in July 2013 when it announced plans to convert 83 miles of paved road in South and West Texas to gravel. Agency officials at the time said truck traffic from the drilling boom was quickly wearing away roads and that it lacked the funding to fix them. Converting some roads to gravel would make for a smoother and safer ride, they argued.
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After initially converting two small road segments in South Texas, the agency put the program on hold in response to widespread criticism.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst applauded TxDOT for putting an official end to the unpopular program.
“The soundness and quality of our transportation infrastructure has a direct bearing on our state's economy and quality of life, so I applaud TxDOT's commitment to pursue the highest standards of quality and safety," Dewhurst said Friday in a news release.
TxDOT has said it has an annual budget shortfall of $5 billion, with $1 billion of that tied to crumbling infrastructure in the energy sector.