AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Department of Transportation is narrowing down its plan that will guide state transportation for the next 10 years and for the next two weeks, the department is asking the public to weigh in.
The nearly $75 billion plan, called the Unified Transportation Program (UTP), will impact projects across the state, and some transportation safety advocates are pushing for the public to actually use this chance to share their thoughts. The Texas Transportation Commission adopts a new UTP every year.
A TxDOT spokesperson says the projects in this plan were selected through scoring and ranking by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) as well as regional leaders across the state. CAMPO says the projects in this year’s UTP line up with its four-year transportation program.
According to a TxDOT presentation, the 2017 version of this plan only received 23 public comments in total from the entire state.
“Very few members of the public are looking at how these huge amounts of money are being divided up,” said Jay Blazek Crossley, the executive director of Farm & City, a nonprofit which also operates Vision Zero Texas, which is aimed at ending all traffic fatalities in Texas.
According to the most recent statistics from TxDOT, on average, 10 people are killed in Texas each day in motor vehicle crashes.
Crossley believes it’s important to share comments about this plan because, in his view, safety doesn’t account for enough of the total program. Currently, TxDOT is proposing using 4 percent of the program on safety related expenses. Crossley would like to see more of that money go to things like pedestrian crossings and shoulders for rural highways as opposed to curbing congestion.
“We need to prioritize the lives of Texans more than driving fast and this is one of the big vehicles where we’re doing that wrong I believe,” he said.
“The good people at TxDOT and the Transportation Commission need to hear from more people across Texas, and I think they will be able to do their job better if they hear from more of us,” Crossley added.
Many Central Texas roads would be impacted by the proposed UTP, including Interstate 35, State Highway 71, Ranch to Market 2222, US 290 and US 183. In Travis County, TxDOT is proposing $480 million worth of improvements on I-35, the largest chunk of which will go to adding lanes and reconstructing ramps to the freeway in between US 183 and Riverside Drive.
“Since there’s only three lanes here, it clogs up,” driver Michael Perkins said of the stretch of I-35 near downtown Austin. Perkins works in construction and has to drive up and down I-35 multiple times a day.
“It can’t stay as it is, it definitely needs a new lane added onto it, or in my opinion an expansion bridge all the way across,” said Perkins, who would also like to see some of the state’s funding go toward light rail.
On Tuesday, Aug. 7, the public can weigh in at a forum at 10 a.m. at the Environmental Affairs Division of TxDOT at 118 East Riverside Dr. The public can also submit comments online or print comment forms to mail to TXDOT, Attention: Peter Smith, P.O. Box 149217, Austin, TX 78714-9217 by Aug. 20.