Senate State Affairs Committee Examines the Impact of Commercial Trucks on Texas Roads and Bridges
AUSTIN - The Senate State Affairs Committee met Monday, June 12, 2000, in the Senate Chamber at the State Capitol. Senator Shapiro of Plano, serving as chair, indicated this could be their last hearing before session begins on January of 2001. If they do meet again, it will be next month in Tyler.
The committee has held public hearings around the state during the interim to study charges issued by Lt. Governor Rick Perry. Monday's meeting focused on charge 3. This charge instructs the committee to evaluate the safety of the state's commercial trucking industry, including the safety of roads and bridges, enforcement of truck safety regulations by the Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement entities, the effectiveness of current laws relating to oversize and overweight vehicles, and the adequacy of the fee structure designed to compensate county governments for road repair.
Committee members and witnesses discussed the actual procedures and regulations of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on commercial trucking, and the safety of roads and bridges. The invited representatives providing testimony were: Michael W. Behrens, Assistant Executive Director for Engineering Operations, and James Bass, director of the Finance Division, both from TxDOT; James LeBas, Chief Revenue Estimator, and Terry Wegner, Revenue Estimator, both from the Office of the Comptroller of Public Accounts; James P. Allison, General Counsel of the County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas; and Bill Webb, President of the Texas Motor Transportation Association.
Members of TxDOT confirmed there are 12,000 bridges in Texas with functional or structural problems.These problems include being too narrow or having insufficient strength for the weight they must bear. Agency representatives pointed out the need to have a bigger budget to address this problem, although it will take many years to make all bridges functional and structurally adequate.
The increased traffic created by NAFTA is severily damaging Texas roads and bridges, especially in the Border region. According to Senator Shapleigh of El Paso, overweight Mexican trucks are one of the main causes. This results in the Border counties subsidizing the international trade through repairs to their county roads and bridges. Forty-four percent of trucks inspected do not comply with regulations. Senator Lucio Jr. of Brownsville proposed to make commercial trucking pay fees depending on miles traveled in a county to help pay for the damage. He was informed by a TxDOT representative tha the option would be hard to execute, since presently there is no registration or control about where the trucks are going once they leave the border.
NAFTA has lead to a traffic increase of 215 percent on the border; still the options for better infrastructure are confronted with the problem of insufficient funds. New county roads are built to support the weight of normal commercial trucks and school buses -approximately 50,000 pounds. These roads need maintenance once every two years. If county roads were built under state standards --supporting 80,000 pounds, they would only need maintenance once every ten years, but the construction costos would be double. To make the problem worse Mexican regulations for commercial trucking allow a much higher weight limit -around 130,000 pounds, and even this is not usually enforced. But it should not be a Border problem, Senator Lucio said, "a NAFTA plan for infrastructure has to be a state plan."
In addition to solving the infrastructure problem, the state needs to increase regulations' enforcement and fees. Witnesses said trucks are not complying with rules, and truckers often communicate by radio to bypass inspection points.
Senator Florence Shapiro of Plano chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee. Senator Eliot Shapleigh of El Paso serves as vice chair. Members include Senators David Bernsen of Beaumont, J.E. "Buster" Brown of Lake Jackson, David Cain of Dallas, Tom Haywood of Wichita Falls, Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville, Drew Nixon of Carthage, and Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio.
The committee stands recessed subject to the call of the chair. Members will submit a report to be used in the drafting of legislation for the 77th Legislature, which convenes in January of 2001.