HISTORY & ACHIEVEMENTS
Transportation EXcellence for the 21st Century (TEX-21) was founded in 1999, as a result of the Transportation Summit hosted by the City of Irving. Summit attendees repeatedly lamented that “transportation is such a critical issue; we need to meet more than once a year.” This concept became TEX-21. We are a non-profit organization made up of cities, counties, economic development corporations and private business that met on a monthly basis in various locations around the state in order to educate ourselves on diverse infrastructure needs and their cost, at the same time educating others on policy issues that needed change. In 1999, when TEX-21 began, we had five successful legislative points.
The first issue that TEX-21 undertook was transportation funding. In the past, each individual community or area of the state would fight to get funding for their specific project. The problem was that the funding was incredibly limited, so they were fighting over a “sliver from a very small pie.”
TEX-21 adopted the theory that, “a rising tide raises all ships.” The communities that banded together under TEX-21 worked to increase the size of the “pie” itself. At that time the transportation budget in Texas was only $4 billion per biennium. Through various efforts, TEX-21 achieved their goal of raising awareness of the importance of mobility to individuals within communities throughout the state. They also educated them on how much tax revenue was raised, where it came from, and where the dollars raised were spent. In 2001, TEX-21 promoted the Mobility Fund Initiative and it passed. In 2003, the legislature passed ten TEX-21 Initiatives.
Of course, transportation funding continued to be a major imperative for TEX-21. We developed numerous tools adopted by the legislature that added additional dollars to the TxDOT budget. On the federal level, Texas has always been a donor state. We send more gas tax dollars to Washington, so TEX-21 worked with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison to get a guaranteed percentage return to all states and allowing the remaining percentage to be used by states that do not generate enough gas tax dollars to maintain the interstate system. We also supported exemption from gas taxes for transit entities, a common sense initiative, because it was one taxing entity paying another taxing entity.
Through this process, several other initiatives were adopted. From the inception of TEX-21, one of the top priorities was to end diversions from Fund VI, which is the transportation funding account. The major diversion, besides the constitutional education funding portion (25% of the gas tax), was Department of Public Safety funding. We realized the need to end that diversion and instead fund DPS through the general fund. We protected taxpayers by leading an initiative requiring that before any type of tax increase was passed by the Legislature, all diversions from the transportation fund must be ended. Since the creation of TEX-21, there has not been a single tax increase. Our initiative is not solely responsible, however it did play a large role, as it seemed reasonable to most legislators and was heard repeatedly when the subject of a gas tax increase or indexing the gas tax came up.
Another initiative that the municipal members brought forward and was adopted by the full membership early on was to reduce the municipal responsibility for utility relocation costs. This initiative was successful, and was renewed once again in later years.
Another TEX-21 objective was to streamline legislative processes, and over the years TEX-21 has generated ideas for several streamlined processes that have been adopted into practice. For example, it was TEX-21’s initiative to streamline and simplify vehicle registrations, which has now been successfully implemented.
TEX-21 has long advocated a multi-year reauthorization of the Federal Transportation Bill and Airport Bill (and others) so that the states would have long term funding continuity instead of passing a continuing resolution fix or a short term bill. This is critical because most projects take more than a year to plan, design and build. It is impossible to authorize a project if you are unsure that funding will be available the next year to complete the design process or the construction. We also accomplished modifications in each reauthorization bill, streamlining the processes to build a road and eliminating some of the many “silos” created which had unnecessarily specific federal requirements for their use.
TEX-21 began coalitions along various corridors in Texas. For example, a task force on IH-30 that led directly to an official TxDOT Corridor Study, successfully accomplishing our goal. We currently maintain several Corridor Task Forces.
TEX-21 also urged the State to use their bonding capacity authorized by the voters to the full extent possible instead of leaving the dollars unspent in years that projects were needed and other funding was not available. This was also accepted by TXDOT.
Toll road authorities in Texas operate under different rules for each entity. TEX-21 worked toward equality across all toll entities so all Texans would be treated fairly by these authorities. While not every aspect is alike, several of these differences were adjusted across the authorities. We also supported a universal toll system that allowed drivers to go from one area of the state to another and through the airports using only one toll tag.
We supported a successful initiative that if toll roads were to be built, the tolls should remain in the area they were generated, not used to build projects in other areas of the State. We fought unrealistic tenets of a public-private partnership which would not allow other roads to be built parallel or crossing a toll road that might reduce the return on investment to the toll authority, and successfully got a temporary moratorium on toll roads that gave ultimate granting authority to the Legislature.
TEX-21 also supported additional security and efficiency at the border, decreasing the illicit drug trafficking and human traffickers across the border.
TEX-21 has always supported commuter rail in Texas. We worked hard to ensure the cities that had been members of DART for many years finally received the rail service they were promised. This included Irving, Carrollton and Rowlett, and today they all have successful commuter rail systems.
We also supported expanding the rail division within TxDOT to more than one person, because multi-modal systems are essential for mobility, you cannot simply cover the state in concrete. TxDOT increased from one person to three, a marked improvement. We also supported the creation of the Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund in hopes of eliminating at grade rail crossings. The fund was created but unfortunately it was not funded.
TEX-21 was the first group to discuss high speed rail, with a goal to bring high speed rail to Texas. Our vision in the beginning was called the Texas T-Bone, which would be a line running from Houston to San Antonio, then north to DFW. We felt it would be the cheapest route that would cover the major cities because it eliminated the need for two independent lines running essentially parallel, Houston to DFW and San Antonio to DFW. We also were the first group to speak to the Japanese, French, and German Rail Companies about coming to Texas. At least one of those entities is planning to build high speed rail in Texas currently.
We began our research on the expansion of the Panama Canal long before we began making the annual TEX-21 Mission to Panama in 2009. TEX-21 realized that the expansion of the Panama Canal could jeopardize the usefulness of Texas gulf ports because the major shipping companies would be using ships with a wider body and deeper draft. At the time, Texas ports could not accommodate the vast sizes of these new vessels. Numerous legislators have traveled with us on these research missions to Panama.
We brought the research to the Texas Legislature and it was given a subcommittee hearing, but until recently, nothing moved forward. However, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Joe Straus realized through TEX-21’s efforts that Texas is a Maritime State, and that billions of dollars in trade passes through these ports annually. They also understood that no one along the Gulf had prepared for the new ships, meaning Texas could be the first. Texas has a huge advantage over the West coast ports because it is a right to work state, eliminating the possibility of our gulf ports having the numerous labor problems that West Coast ports have historically been plagued with. The delays at West Coast ports can cost a big box store $1.5 billion a day.
The Lieutenant Governor and Speaker both created a Select Committee on Ports to study the sea and inland ports to determine what would need to be done to keep them competitive. Kudos to Lt. Governor Patrick and Speaker Joe Straus for having the vision to establish the committees and to TEX-21 for continuing to present the information until someone took notice. Click to read more about our Third Coast Initiative.
Join TEX-21 today and be on the front lines of “better mobility through better policy”!