ACTION ALERT: Support TXDOT staff proposal to double safety funding

The annual Texas Department of Transportation (TXDOT) process called the Unified Transportation Program (UTP) is underway. This is a ten year plan that allocates funding across the state and across different priorities. A staff proposal is included in the draft 2020 UTP to add $600 million for the next two fiscal years dedicated to the new Road to Zero campaign to end traffic deaths across Texas by 2050.

You can comment on this process and support this increase in safety spending by making an online comment here or emailing [email protected] Please do so with a brief, respectful message. Please include personal stories about how traffic violence has affected your family if you have such stories to tell.

Click here for more information on the public engagement process or you can read full draft UTP here.

The Proposal

Following suggestions from the Texas Transportation Commission in the Unified Transportation Program development process, TXDOT staff have proposed allocating $600 million from Category 12 discretionary funds to Category 8 (Safety) to be spent in FY2020 and 2021 and dedicated to the new Road to Zero program. The proposal is to focus on the three highest contributing categories in fatal and serious injury crashes in Texas: roadway and lane departure, intersection safety, and pedestrian safety.

It appears that the plan is for this Road to Zero spending and program to function outside of the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), which will continue on its own in a manner similar to how safety funds have been spent around the state in recent years.

Should the Texas Transportation Commission keep this proposal in the final 2020 UTP, this will essentially double TXDOT’s safety focused spending across the state for two years. TXDOT leadership have requested the opportunity to study this program for these two years and come back to the commission then with substantial analysis on costs, benefits, and strategies before proposing that this level of safety funding would continue in perpetuity.

Background

Texas leads the nation in traffic deaths with ten families losing a loved one every day on our streets and roads. In recent history, the state has dedicated about $350 million a year – a mix of federal and state funds – each year to safety (Category 8). Of the $75 – 80 billion allocated out across the state in the ten year Unified Transportation Program (UTP), recent years have seen $3.5 billion dedicated to safety, but perhaps $35 billion dedicated to congestion relief.

Importantly, TXDOT staff often note that all projects include safety measures, even those with no explicit Category 8, safety funding. Modern design practices used by TXDOT are much safer in general than the standards TXDOT used forty years ago, so it is reasonable to claim that any project that brings lanes up to modern standards could be improving safety. However, many advocates and transportation engineers feel that TXDOT’s current standards have significant room for improvement, especially as it relates to the concepts of design speed and urban context. 

Much of the recent safety funding has been spent across the state through the Highway Safety Improvement Plan (HSIP), which includes an annual call for proposals. Spending through the HSIP must conform with the state Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). A new SHSP was developed and adopted in 2017, which many activists and public servants feel is a significant improvement upon the previous SHSP. HSIP projects run through many different approaches to improving safety, including enforcement, education, marketing, and research.

The Road to Zero

TXDOT has embarked on a campaign to refocus efforts on reducing traffic deaths across the state, with several key elements of a new approach. However, it is important to note that TXDOT, other state agencies, and local entities have done and continue to do substantial meaningful and good efforts to make Texas streets and roads safer for all users. The new elements are building upon past work, but many existing safety efforts will continue to be crucial and funded as they have been in the past.

At the March 28, 2019 meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, a discussion item was devoted to “System Safety,” following a request from Vision Zero activists the month before to devote time on an upcoming agenda to safety. C. Michael Lee, PE, TXDOT’s Director of Engineering and Safety Operations, gave a presentation covering ongoing safety efforts, some new initiatives, and recommendations for the policy makers. At this time, TXDOT adopted a System Safety approach, including creating a Council on System Safety with both an internal and external stakeholder component. Leaders across all departments of TXDOT are now meeting on a regular basis to focus on continuous improvements to ending traffic deaths.

At the May 30, 2019 meeting of the Texas Transportation Commission, the commission adopted a goal to end traffic deaths in Texas by 2050 and to cut traffic deaths in half by 2035. During comments before the vote, Commissioner Jeff Austin said “we have to put our money where our mouth is” and suggested allocating substantial available funding in this year’s Unified Transportation Program to safety.

Please submit your comments by Monday, August 12 at 4pm

You can comment on this process and support this increase in safety spending by making an online comment here or emailing [email protected] Please do so with a brief, respectful message. Please include personal stories about how traffic violence has affected your family if you have such stories to tell.