Concerns over the state’s upkeep of paved roads in oil and gas production and exploration zones in South Texas and West Texas emerged and have continued since July, during the second special session of the 83rd Texas Legislature.
Legislators from affected districts expressed alarm over a Texas Department of Transportation plan to patch crumbling pavement with gravel instead of ordering higher quality road maintenance and repair.
On Aug. 28, TxDOT announced a 60-day period for counties “to review plans to convert damaged roads to high-end unpaved roads in the state’s energy-producing areas before proceeding with the work” and during that evaluation, the agency would “not move forward on converting other damaged roads unless there is an immediate safety concern.”
“We believe our plan to potentially convert 83 miles of significantly damaged roads in the energy sector is the safe and sensible solution with TxDOT’s available funding,” TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said. “At some point, when drilling activity has subsided and more funding is available, we plan to rebuild these roads to paved farm-to-market levels.”
TxDOT is planning town hall meetings on the topic with legislators, local elected officials, property owners and communities.
LAWS TAKE EFFECT SEPT. 1
The Texas Department of Public Safety on Aug. 29 publicized a list of some of the new laws to take effect Sept. 1. Here are short notes on just a few of them:
- HB 347 expands current limitations on cell phone use in an active school-crossing zone to include the property of a public elementary, middle or junior high school for which a local authority has designated a school-crossing zone.
- HB 1174 increases minimum fines for the misdemeanor offense of passing a stopped school bus loading or unloading children. The minimum fine increases from $200 to $500, and the maximum fine increases from $1,000 to $1,250.
- SB 181, a law that took effect on May 24, allows a motor vehicle operator the option of using a wireless communication device (such as a cell phone) to display motor proof of insurance information as evidence of financial responsibility.
- SB 510 expands the state’s Move Over/Slow Down law by requiring drivers to move over or slow down, depending on the roadway, when approaching a stationary Texas Department of Transportation vehicle with its lights activated and not separated from the roadway by a traffic-control device.
- HB 625 clarifies that the penalty for operating a vehicle on a public highway without displaying the two license plates assigned to the vehicle is a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine not to exceed $200.
- SB 275 increases the penalty for leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident resulting in the death of a person and failing to render aid from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony.
EDUCATION CHIEF NOTES ANNIVERSARY
Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams on Aug. 28, the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights “March on Washington,” noted the continued importance of closing the achievement gap among all students in Texas.
Among points Williams made was this: “Education continues to be the great equalizer. And in a state where the majority of our students are now Hispanic or African-American, closing the achievement gap takes on increasing significance for the future prosperity of Texas.
“It is the reason I purposely chose to make that factor a major component of our state’s new accountability system. The results of this year’s ratings as well as recently announced numbers on graduation rates and ACT scores show that Texas has made tremendous strides.”
Ed Sterling is director of member services for the Texas Press Association, headquartered in Austin.