Dallas Morning News 6/11/14 3:05 pm By Michael Lindenberger

WASHINGTON — Tarrant County is one of the fastest-growing urban counties in America, and it needs more money from Washington to keep building roads. That, in a nutshell, is the message Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks brought to Washington Wednesday, where he is taking part in a push by the National Association for Counties.
NACO wants Congress to pass a long-term transportation authorization bill that will keep billions in highway dollars, and some for transit, too, flowing to Texas. It’s hard to plan for long-term road contracts unless they know the money is coming, he said in an interview Wednesday.
Brooks said the federal government is past-due in sweetening the revenue that flows into the Highway trust Fund, too. That’s the dedicated fund of federal gasoline tax receipts that is immune from the vagaries of the spending debates in Congress. Trouble is, with the gas tax rate flat for more than 20 years, it no longer brings in enough money to pay for all the highway and bridge needs, especially in growing metro areas like North Texas. In fact Congress has routinely had to transfer money from the general fund to keep the transportation money spigots turned on.
None of this is new, of course. County officials — and counterparts in cities, states and the highwya industry itself — have been calling for massive investment in highways and, to a much smaller degree, mass transit for years. Turns out, that 60-some years on, the national interstate system costs a ton to keep up.
I asked Brooks three pertinent questions.
The News: If I am in Congress, I might look askance at Texans coming to demand more highway tax dollars. After all, the Legislature hasn’t changed the state gas tax since the early 1990s. It’s been 20 cents ever since then, the 38th highest of the 50 states. (California’s is 48 cents. The federal gas tax, also unchanged for 20+ years, is 18.4 cents.) Why should Congress raise its tax rate when Texas won’t?
Brooks: “The Constitution gives the federal government responsibility for interstate commerce,” Brooks said. “and that’s really what transportation is about — moving goods and services. Certainly, the state plays a role but it’s the primary responsibility of the federal government.”
He said that over the next two years, Tarrant County has about $600 million in work planned for major highways, and that it is counting on the federal government for about $400 million of that total. “You can’t replace that amount with any other source,” he said.
The News:North Texas, though, has a much better job than just about any other metro area in the U.S. in finding money for highway projects, even given a parsimonious state Legislature and a strapped federal government. Some residents pay $400 a month just to cover their tolls bills. Has North Texas struck the right balance between toll roads and tax-supported freeways?
Brooks: I think we’ve pushed the limit of what we can do at the local level. I think we’ve tolled every infrastructure asset that was left to toll.
The News: Dallas, to cite one example, has spent decades pursuing a highway-first transportation agenda. It’s fair to say that has embodied the very ideal of a highway-centric growth pattern, with the highways enable an essentially boundless expansion into the prairie. Isn’t coming here to Washington demanding more highway money just perpetuating a cycle that has left Dallas, at any rate, struggling to keep business and people in the city from moving to the suburbs?
Brooks: I have always said that we need more than one solution. Dallas at least has been very aggressive with its light rail. It has expanded that and is expanding it into neighboring counties. I fear we are very very far behind in Tarrant County in doing the same thing. I think light rail has to be part of our future.”
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Photo – Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks spoke at the National Press Club Wednesday to help the National Association of Counties make its case for more highway funding. He’s pictured here during an interview with The News just before his talk.

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